5 Things to Remember when…….Listening to colleagues complaining in the office

This is the first in a new series of monthly posts called 5 things to remember when…..  The inspiration for these has come from our experiences working in a number of different schools:  Large schools, busy schools, schools with many off-site centres, awkward split shifts and unconventional weekend patterns, disorganised schools full of the familiar faces of less experienced and more experienced colleagues we recognised but never knew the names of.  With such a range of places to work, staff rooms to work in and colleagues to work with – we realise that delivering INSETTs and meeting the full range of needs of all the teachers in your context is an insurmountable task.  Indeed, there are some things that are important – dare we say essential – to the health of the workings and mechanics of a staff room, yet may not receive the explicit attention of a full training session.  And so, it is in this vein that we embark on our monthly escapade to look at a number of areas oft neglected, forgotten, resented and possibly taken for granted.  This month, we look at 5 things to remember when listening to your colleagues complaining in the office (insert brass regalia here).

Dealing with whingers (from Creative Commons)

Dealing with whingers (from Creative Commons)

1) Stop and take two deep breaths

(Especially if they are complaining about having to go to an INSETT, which you just spent hours putting together.)

In our experience, there are 3 types of people in most offices: those who love a whinge, those who love to stick it to the whingers and those who quite simply can’t be bothered with whingers.  Regardless of where you may fall on the spectrum (we personally have a foot in each camp, depending on day/time/blood sugar level/proximity of 20 screaming children), everyone is entitled to raise their concerns, should they have any, at work.

It’s important to remember that offices are in fact professional communal spaces and there is (or at least there should be) an unwritten rule about behaving in that space in a way that minimally impacts upon others (you wouldn’t walk into somebody else’s living room, take off your dirty socks and fart loudly, would you……or, would you….?).

It’s also worth keeping in mind that in many cases, office complainers merely want to be understood (and are possibly just in need of a big warm, purely professional, hug).  There is nothing more irritating than someone chirping up from across the room, in response to a publicly voiced complaint, in a way that aggravates and feeds the complainer and gives them even more reason to spend their precious work time spinning their wheels about (insert THAT book’s name here) Pre-Intermediate.  Being reactive is one of the least helpful things you can do in conflict situations, so hold off on offering your two cents worth.  Not every argument is worth getting involved in and above all…….remember….the walls have ears (insert cheesy Kung Fu movie zoom-in with added creepy music and evil, long-bearded man chuckle here).

2) Keep some perspective.

Sometimes (often…usually…delete as appropriate depending on your current context) complaints are genuine, and there’s something quite annoying going on at work. Let’s think of a purely hypothetical example, say, gosh, you find yourself teaching a class in the DOS’s office, as the school’s opened more classes than has classrooms and the students are balancing photocopies of a book on their laps as the books haven’t been delivered because the previous books haven’t been paid for and the distributors are withholding new stock. You are concerned about the level of professionalism at play. Purely hypothetical, of course, as no school would really let this happen, right? Riiiiiight. (tumbleweed)

Genuine concerns deserve to be voiced, as long as they are done so with the intention of precipitating change/improvement in some way.  And the hypothetical teacher in the above hypothetical situation certainly got their hypothetical whinge on. But when you’ve got through that sort of debacle, hearing the uproar from across the room that printer number 12 is out of order, and the inevitable question asked, “How can we be expected to maintain professional standards in this office without access to resources?!” (even though the massive and amazing printers 13-16 are in fact still working just fine!!) – just hang on to your sense of perspective – even if the complainer has lost theirs. Tell yourself quietly that one day this teacher will move on to a school with one mouse-powered photocopier squirreled away under the back stairs which breaks down every other day and is shared by sixty teachers. Console yourself that one day said whinger will understand how good they had it.

3) Don’t be dismissive….at first.

Along with being reactive, being publicly dismissive is antagonistic and not really constructive. Ultimately, we’re all entitled to our grievances – some of us find more appropriate ways  to air those grievances than others.

Sometimes I wonder if TEFL staff room design principles 101 ought to be a compulsory unit for anyone taking postgraduate management qualifications – a course which ought to be assessed by a candidates ability to recognise and complete appropriate staffroom conflict resolution lexis:

“That’s really……”   (interesting…..not trivial)

“What do you….” (mean by that….not think you’re achieving by involving the entire office floor in your disgruntled attitude towards the ambient temperature of the water cooler?)

“I’m really….” (sorry to hear you feel like this….not looking forward to the moment the lift doors close to take me home, thereby muffling the sound of your piercing voice and placing 3 levels of industrially reinforced concrete between you and I)

All said phrases ought to be drilled at induction, and permanently on display on the central staff noticeboard.  Remember that inviting the person to explain a little more about what they mean and why they are disgruntled may:

1) Give them the perception that you’re even the slightest bit sympathetic

2) Avoid direct confrontation

3) Bring the conversation that little bit closer to the point at which it is actually appropriate to say “I really need to get on with my work now, and by the sounds of it, so do you”.  And as always, beware the serial whinger….sometimes it IS actually ok to slap someone in the face with a wet fish.

4) Whose job is it, anyway?

Wouldn’t it be nice, if every time you had a question or issue, there was someone whose job it was to deal with and resolve that specific problem? Chances are it’s highly likely that someone in the building will be able to help.  Be it a senior teacher, manager, technician, cleaner or resident expert – perhaps the simplest solution to helping your colleague in need is to point them in the right direction?

If there were a motto we’d like to see printed on the footer of every TEFL certificate ever issues, it would be…..”Be an enabler”.  Help when and where you can (unless your colleague is complaining for the sake of complaining….in which case be a wet-fish-slapper.  Or unless they are complaining about you not having done something which actually is your job…in which case do your job.)

One of the more common complaints we have come across is the situation where teachers take issue with terms of employment that are actually clearly stated in contracts and job descriptions (and yes, we are totally guilty of this ourselves – 6am starts and late night weekend finishes….sound familiar to anyone?).  It is important to make a distinction between complaints that can be solved (i.e. when a person is asking for help) and when complaint cannot be solved (i.e. when someone is complaining for the sake of complaining, even though there may be a very clear and reasonable solution).  While one of these scenarios deserves attention, smiles and a friendly follow-up, the other one deserves – now we won’t say this is the most professional thing to do, but your discretion may indicate that the situation warrants it – a smile, patronising look of concern and a poignant rendition on the world’s smallest violin.

5) Stand up, when the time is right

Ultimately, there are things that are worth fighting for, comments that ought to be publicly challenged and contributions that deserve further explanation.

“God, I LOVE The Silent Way”……(please….tell me more…)

“I simply don’t have time to correct the mistakes I find in shared documents and materials”……(but somehow you manage to find the time to soap box about it!)

“We’re planning to change the terms of our contracts to allow administration the flexibility to pay teachers up to 3 weeks’ late”…..(rather than……….?)

The truth is that we are, by and large, all guilty of falling into the trap of simply feeling like a bit of a whinge – and given the fact that the TEFL industry generally doesn’t pay enough for its employees to necessarily feel like going the extra mile is really worth their time or effort, it’s hardly surprising. On an individual level, however, we can each make a small difference to the way we listen, show compassion towards each other, and above all, exercise the judicial implementation of wet fish.  Collectively, and cumulatively, small changes make a big difference.

* By James Pengelley and Jane Pyper (Hong Kong), purveyors of Australian wit and bathers tans.

The views expressed in this post are our own and not those of #AusELT as a whole, or of English Australia

Are you ready to talk about learner autonomy?


Our next Twitter chat will take place on Thursday 4th September at 8.30pm Sydney time (check here to see the time where you are) and will be on the zeitgeisty topic of ‘learner autonomy’. We are privileged to have this chat guest-moderated by Phil Benson, who is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, and has researched and published in the area of learner autonomy and informal language learning beyond the classroom for many years. Phil has put together a few questions to whet the appetite and we look forward to discussing them on Thursday. Enjoy!



Pre-chat thinking

1. What does ‘autonomy’ mean to you, personally, in your own learning, teaching, or professional development?

2. If you are interested in autonomy and another teacher isn’t interested in it at all, how do you think that would show up in your teaching?

3. In Autonomy in language teaching and learning: How to do it ‘here’, I listed 10 pedagogical strategies that I think contribute to learner autonomy in the classroom (NB: there’s a brief explanation of each on pp. 10-11 of the article):

  • encouraging student preparation
  • drawing on out-of-class experience
  • using ‘authentic’ materials and ‘real’ language
  • independent inquiry
  • involve students in task design
  • encouraging student-student interaction
  • peer teaching
  • encouraging divergent student outcomes
  • self- and peer-assessment
  • encourage reflection

So my questions are:

  • Which strategies have you used in your own teaching?
  • Which strategies could you use more?
  • Are there any strategies that you find problematic?
  • Any strategies to add?

4. Autonomy can be defined as ‘the capacity to control one’s own learning’ with 98 characters to spare. What would you add?

Pre-chat reading (optional!)

Benson, P. Autonomy in language teaching and learning: How to do it ‘here’.

Smith, R (2008). Learner autonomy. ELTJ, 62(4), 395-397.

Looking forward to discussing these questions and others relating to learner autonomy in Thursday’s chat!

Summary of #AusELT chat with Huw Jarvis on Mobile-Assisted Language Use (MALU), 5/8/14

Photo credit: @grahamstanley on eltpics

Photo credit: @grahamstanley on eltpics

Many thanks to Huw Jarvis (@TESOLacademic) for agreeing to be our guest for the August #AusELT chat. Thanks also to @ElkySmith for moderating. It was an interesting hour where several lines of discussion arose and it was good to see regular #AusELTers (@cioccas, @sujava, @Penultimate_K) joined by newcomers @McIntyreShona and @ReinventEnglish.

The topic of the chat was on the shift from traditional approaches in edtech (specifically CALL and MALL) to the more contemporary and social media-based MALU.

• First up – the acronyms:

CALL = computer assisted language learning
MALL = mobile assisted language learning
MALU = mobile assisted language use
SM = social media
ICC = intercultural communicative competence

MALU involves using a range of devices for a range of purposes in 2nd language learning. For our purposes in the chat, this is English. According to @TESOLacademic, MALU is a more accurate acronym to describe and investigate practice and it is his suggestion that MALU replace CALL/MALL which are misleading terms because what learners are doing with devices in less controlled contexts is rarely CALL and usually MALU.

The ‘M’ in MALL and MALU represents a broader range of devices than the ‘C’ in CALL. Mobility is now highly significant for all kinds of interactions in an L1 and for many also in an L2.

The ‘C’ in CALL comes from a bygone age of “just” desktops and laptops. Most blended learning curricula really still only acknowledge these two forms of technology and don’t really include mobile devices and social media.

The ‘U’ reflects not so much an aversion to the ‘learning’ in Krashen’s learning/acquisition dichotomy, but a recognition of a bigger picture in which acquisition is also recognised. One of the uses can be to consciously learn, but ‘picking up’ language through use is also significant, particularly with SM.

• Is there a place for MALU in ELT curricula or is its value more ‘extra-curricular’? (@ElkySmith)

If we define our job as being to equip students to operate efficiently in an L2 in a digital age, then there is a place in our curriculum. Introducing a digital literacies strand into the standard ELT syllabus “a la Pegrum et al” should definitely be considered as digital literacy in an L2 is key. It is, however, always a struggle to introduce anything new and many course designers are pushed to fit in such things as learning skills and critical thinking, never mind digital literacies! Therefore MALU ideas are best integrated into the syllabus and should not be treated as an ‘add-on’ – what Bax, discussing CALL, terms ‘normalisation’.

Some schools actually do have a social media curriculum but the example SM curriculum given by @McIntyreShona needed updating and could be made more interesting to students. This curriculum deals with Facebook, Twitter, wikis and blogs, the jargon which is used, and the shortcuts. The students, it seems, are not so much into wikis and blogs.

Incorporating digital literacy into ELT syllabi would also necessitate enhancing the digital literacy of teachers as not everyone knows how to gain and then impart these skills.

• SM in L1 and L2 is a dominant practice (outside class) for many users…so why does ELT neglect it? (@TESOLacademic)

It isn’t just SM use – ELT neglects a lot of things such as pronunciation, listening skills, and extensive reading! However, neglecting SM means missing out on the opportunities for more informal, incidental, incorporative, and authentic ways to acquire and use English. This is possibly because mobile technology is perceived as more social than educational and therefore not as ‘real’ learning. (@Penultimate_K)

When talking of areas in ELT that are neglected, @ElkySmith pointed out that intercultural communicative competence was one such area. He asked it if was possible that MALU could help with this? While it is possible that ICC is something that is gained incidentally through SM use, no one had really come across any real discussion of ICC and SM/ed tech, but @TESOLacademic noted that ICC and shifts away from EFL/ESL to ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) were also potentially well-aligned with MALU. For example, students report gaming online in L1 AND in L2. @ReinventEnglish asked if there were more games, apps, and SM that were ‘English Only? This perception of ‘English Only’ in games may be attributed to a bias towards the L2. The games are not so much developed as ‘English Only’ but because more often than not English is the language that the game-developers use, the gamers engage in the dominant language and adapt it so that they can participate in the game. Internet cafes in countries such as Thailand are packed with gamers playing in their L1 and L2 and the interchanges are ‘effortlessly macaronic and weighted more to L2’.

@TESOLacademic stated that SM ’belongs’ to [the digital residents] as it is not a ‘virtual learning environment’ like Blackboard or Moodle. There is certainly a difference between the ‘environment’ of the VLE and the ‘residence’ of the digital resident.

• Perceptions of MALU when used in class

This ownership (of English and of SM) is not always apparent to the students themselves, despite the fact that MALU arises out of work on student practices NOT teacher preferences (@TESOLacademic). @McIntyreShona pointed out that as well as being reluctant to engage in Facebook and other SM in English, her students are often worried about their lack of accuracy. This is interesting as it indicates that if SM forms part of a class activity, students see accuracy as being important. However, when engaging in extra-curricular SM or in gaming, accuracy is not so important to them.

Accuracy-based activities are perhaps seen as part of a more traditional CALL approach (which involves practice – rather than use – of English in the self-access centre) and of teacher-directed activities. It seems that students frequently post in L2 on Facebook with each other but respond less to teachers’ posts. It is possible that this is because they may be worried about everything the teacher sees as something which may be assessed, so they are giving priority to accuracy over fluency in these interchanges. (It is also significant that if the teacher starts using ‘their’ SM space, it may start ‘looking like learning and not so much fun!’ @cioccas) Studies have shown that students in the UAE as well as Thailand use both L1 and L2 with SM. Other studies show more L2 ‘turn-taking’ happens online compared with face-to-face interaction which again has implications for the fluency/accuracy debate as well as for teacher-directed vs self-directed learning and L2 use.

• How to use MALU in class – some suggestions

o For an EAP task, have students evaluate the credibility of websites and also to reference them.
o Get students to ‘interact’ (beyond clicking on “like”) in an L2 with Youtube. It was pointed out that Youtube use was passive and receptive (which is not a bad thing) and that it could be balanced out with other social media, Twitter, Facebook, etc. for more active and productive use.
o To review and share useful websites. (The teacher provides models for discussion, then negotiates the criteria with the class – all depends on the skills in class)
o Create a video introduction (an idea from a UECA PD session that @cioccas saw)
o Use apps in English (‘getting away from learning’ is arguably good – @TESOLacademic is with Krashen on this!) rather than using apps to learn English. Both are okay to do, but students’ expressed preference suggests the former
o “Managing” information e.g. deleting, putting things in folders, saving/backing up in virtual spaces (Dropbox, delicious.com)

• To conclude:

“So long as they’re using L2, it’s a win, IMO.” @McIntyreShona
“YES ;-) … and they may learn more too!” @TESOLacademic


From Huw (@TESOLacademic)

Web-page with keynote addresses, articles, and other links


From Lesley (@cioccas)

http://www.eltideas.com/lesson-plans/first-lesson-with-a-new-class/ (video introductions with a new class)



Bax – normalisation (of CALL)


Krashen – learning/acquisition distinction


Pegrum et al – digital literacies strand


Upcoming #AusELT chat with Huw Jarvis – Tuesday August 5th 8:30pm AEST

Please note that this #AusELT chat session will be held on Tuesday August 5th at 8:30pm AEST (11:30am BST) when we will be joined by our special guest Huw Jarvis. 


Shifting from Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) to Mobile Assisted Language Use (MALU) for describing and investing practice

Many teachers and students lament how fast technology has changed in recent years. ELT, with its abundance of acronyms, has often tried to label things. Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has been a predominant one for many years. Technological changes have seen the emergence of newer acronyms; Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) and more recently Mobile Assisted Language Use (MALU).

This chat session will explore MALU and how Huw feels it can ‘describe, investigate and inform practice’. He notes that his own ideas on MALU are ‘still evolving’ so he sees the chat session as ‘an opportunity to share ideas and issues’.

Huw feels It would be useful for participants to read the following two papers:

Jarvis, H. (2014). ‘Digital residents: Practices and perceptions of non native speakers.’ Asian EFL Journal Teaching Articles. Vol. 75. pp. 21-35. Available from http://www.tesolacademic.org/msworddownloads/AsianEFL%20(March14).pdf

Jarvis, H. and Achilleos, M. (2013). ‘From computer assisted language learning (CALL) to mobile assisted language use.’  TESL-EJ.  Vol. 16. No.4. pp. 1-18. Available from http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume16/ej64/ej64a2/

Both papers (and many more) are available as open access from http://www.tesolacademic.org/ where Huw is the editor.

We look forward to seeing you and Huw on Tuesday August 5th at 8:30pm AEST (11:30am BST). 

#AusELT chat summary: “Professional development – that’s what I want!” (3rd July 2014)

What do we want imageWhat a lively chat about professional development! @cioccas posted some questions for us to think about before the chat and then structured the chat around these. This was a great idea because we could formulate some answers before the chat and this made it easier to post (copy and paste our pre-written ideas) and took the stress off us to constantly type (well, at least that’s what I did!) The questions and issues we discussed are below, and the main comments are summarised.


What do teachers want and expect from PD?

@andrea_rivett posted: “It should be relevant, interesting and get me to think about my own practice.” @Penultimate_K commented that newer teachers wanted direction and skills development and more experienced teachers wanted refinement and innovation. @KateRoss0901 reminded us that some teachers wanted traditional forms of PD such as post-graduate study, seminars and workshops. @sujava and @sophiakhan4 wondered whether all teachers wanted PD. @sujava mentioned that any PD should include a takeaway for use in the classroom as teachers are time poor.

What is PD?

@Penultimate_K reminded us that self-directed PD is often forgotten as a form of informal PD. @KateRoss0901 made the insightful comment that we encourage our students to be self-directed learners but don’t seem to follow this approach in our own PD. @andrea_rivett raised the question of a definition of PD. Is it formal, informal, online, F2F, written, spoken, individual, collaborative, paid, unpaid, teacher-directed, institution-directed? Does it result in a certificate / assessment / observation / some form of classroom practice? Is it private reflection? Who defines it and how do we motivate teachers to participate in it?

@cioccas said that teachers should choose what PD they wanted and that it should be differentiated. @sophiakhan4 recommended we all read Karen Benson and Phil Chappell’s contribution on PD in the English Australia Journal as it deals with a program for differentiated PD.

Expectations around PD

@sujava said that some teachers felt pressed for time and felt that PD was an imposition. @MeredithMacaul1 reminded us of teacher workload as obstacles to attending PD. @cherrymp asked if these things were excuses. @sujava mentioned that some people want to teach / do their job and then go home and @SophiaKhan4 asked if we had unrealistic expectations of teachers. Are people in other professions required / expected to do PD?

A few people mentioned that PD should be provided as part of the job and @aparnajacob said that people expected to be paid as part of PD. Personally, I would expect mandated PD to be paid but anything I was interested in I could pursue myself. It’s always worth putting in a proposal to management to have PD subsidized (e.g. travel and accommodation expenses). Online PD would save costs here but @cioccas has observed that online PD is not always accepted by managers.

What do managers want and expect from teacher PD?

@andrea_rivett said PD was everyone’s responsibility but teachers and managers could suggest, deliver and organise it. @michaelgriffin asked how we can encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, seek opportunities for PD on their own and become independent learners. This is a question those in management and teacher development constantly grapple with.

 A PD budget

The conversation turned to how to allocate a PD budget. Some recommendations included:

  • any budget for group and individual PD should be aligned to organizational goals
  • teachers who were sponsored by their organisation to attend an event could come back to their campus / college and share what they learned
  • learning institutions could take turns in hosting PD to keep costs down
  • teachers can share delivery (reduced prep time) so a guest speaker is not needed (and therefore no payment required)
  • teachers can put in proposals for external PD conferences and if accepted their college could pay for them to go
  • get staff to deliver PD, everyone votes and the best presenter gets a PD allowance (to attend a conference etc.) with the aim always being to bring back and share the ‘learning’

 Sharing PD opportunities

The conversation then turned to how to share PD opportunities / advertise PD. Some ideas were:

  • Bulletin board, newsletter, group / email list
  • Scoop.It (online magazine), English Australia newsletter

@cioccas asked how information about PD opportunities was disseminated to teachers who weren’t connected and @KateRoss0901 commented that this could be approached from various angles (formal, informal, electronic, spoken, written), which would catch a wider audience. She also commented that employees had a responsibility to develop themselves.

Who participates in PD? Why / why not?

@hairychef asked the pertinent question: “Has the issue of low engagement in highly qualified staffrooms been addressed?” @sujava mentioned PLNs: Facebook, Pearltrees and Twitter and showing people how to sign up. @cioccas mentioned that she has seen little take up of this from teachers even after several attempts.

This prompted the question from @cioccas: “How to encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, seek opportunities for PD on their own and become independent learners?” @cioccas suggested a series of teacher-led PD sessions, which are starting to take off where she works. @sophiakhan4 mentioned the benefit of having models to inspire and show others what is achievable. She met her models through social media. A few people commented that managers should model best practice.

NB: If interested, you can

What is the role of teachers in their own PD?

 Some suggestions included:

  • to think about what they are interested in vs what they “need” to improve in
  • to run a PD session each – nothing too fancy (30 mins)
  • to do PD in pairs
  • to have active roles in Professional Organisations

Explore here for more ideas on:

What is the role of managers in teacher PD?

 Some suggestions included that managers should:

  • give PD presenting opportunities and responsibilities to teachers
  • have active roles in Professional Organisations
  • model good learning and development (mentoring)
  • use / allocate mentors to promote enthusiasm and commitment

Engagement and feeling valued

The conversation turned to teachers not feeling engaged because they didn’t feel valued and two points were raised. Firstly, do teachers not feel valued because of low self-esteem? Secondly, is the issue here industry baseline standards? Should entry to TEFL be like entry to medicine with the same standards? Would this make teachers more engaged in PD? @hairychef suggested ongoing demand-high teacher training. @KateRoss0901 mentioned that teachers may feel that remuneration didn’t warrant further investment in their careers. @cherrymp suggested we keep working on it that change will come.

On that hopeful note the chat was wrapped up at 9.30pm and we were all left with ideas for moving forward with PD in our centres. I suggest we try some of these ideas and report back from time to time on the AusELT Facebook page.

This post by @sujava


Professional Development – that’s what I want!

The next #AusELT Twitter chat will take place on Thurs 3rd July at 8.30pm Sydney time (click here to see the time where you are). #AusELT stalwart Lesley Cioccarelli has kindly volunteered to manage and moderate this one, on a topic which is close to her heart: professional development. In this pre-chat post she shares some questions and resources to get you in the mood :) 

What do we want image It seems that everyone wants more Professional Development (PD), teachers and managers alike. But do we want the same things, and do we want them in the same timeframes, formats, etc.?

These are some of the questions we could discuss in the chat:

  • What do teachers want and expect from PD?
  • What do managers want and expect from teacher PD?
  • What is the role of teachers in their own PD?
  • What is the role of managers in teacher PD?
  • What do each of these groups think the role of the other is?
  • What happens when these are NOT compatible?

We are all trying to teach, encourage and nurture independent learning skills in our students. So how well are the teachers doing in their own independent learning? In a conversation with a highly respected teacher educator recently, where I was lamenting the reluctance of some teachers to seek their own learning opportunities, even when they were offered to them on a plate, she commented:

I think some people only think PD is relevant if it directly answers a current and immediate problem for them. They do not see it as an opportunity to broaden horizons, or think differently or even just connect with others. What can you do?”

So what can we do? My next question:

  • How do we (as managers or teaching colleagues) encourage and support teachers to manage their own PD, to seek opportunities for PD on their own, to become independent learners?

I would love to discuss how we can encourage teachers to share, reflect on, and discuss their learning, both in their workplace and beyond, but I think that might be a topic of another discussion.  :)

I realise that discussing this on #AusELT is a bit like preaching to the converted, but I think that through sharing experiences and ideas on these issues and more, we can maybe brainstorm some solutions for the benefit of us all.

Some resources to think about

These are mostly related to the role of the manager (or principal) and all come from school sectors, but I think there are ideas we can borrow.

    • Pedigo, M. (2004). Differentiating Professional Development: The Principal’s Role. Melbourne, Hawker Brownlow Education. I love this little book! It has many practical ideas in the ‘Action Steps’ boxes in each section. It’s quite cheap, but unfortunately is not available as a download that I can find. You can view sample pages on the publishers website. There’s also a review here.
    •  Johnson, J. (2011). Differentiating Learning for Teachers. Connected Principals (blog). Extract: “After attending Lyn’s session (*), I started to wonder: Why have they become complacent? Why are they not continuing their own professional learning? Have we given teachers an environment in which they have had an opportunity to continue to grow as professionals? Have we given them the autonomy to expand their knowledge/skills and take risk in the classroom?
    • *Hilt, L. (2011). Differentiated Learning: It’s Not Just for Students! Reform Symposium RSCON3 2011. (Recording). This is the session referred to above. In her session, Lyn talks about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and experiential learning for teachers. Also checkout her slides and list of resources referenced in the talk here.
    • Hunzicker, J. (2010). Characteristics of effective professional development: A checklist. Extract: “Effective professional development engages teachers in learning opportunities that are supportive, job-embedded, instructionally-focused, collaborative, and ongoing.” NB: The checklist on page 13, customised to your environment, might be useful for both managers and teachers alike.
    •  Jayaram, K., Moffit, A. & Scott, D. (2012). Breaking the habit of ineffective professional development for teachers. McKinsey on Society (blog). More focused on the manager (or school/college) providing the PD for teacher, but has some useful ideas.

Hope to ‘see’ you next week for the chat – looking forward to sharing ideas with you then!

This post by Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas)

#AusELT summary – Psuedoscience and Neuromyths 1/5/14 with Russell Mayne @ebefl

Russell Mayne announced himself as the new pin up boy of ESL at the recent IATEFL conference with his attempted burning at the stake of pseudoscience (PS) and neuromyths that pervade/populate (circle the verb that best applies to you) our industry. Are these theories really zombies that refuse to die and erode our professional standards or mere harmless half-truths such as gum taking ten years to digest (more on that later!). Can these theories instead potentially promote a form of curiosity that could be beneficial for teachers and students?

Before reading further get a better understanding of the issue by watching Russel’s entertaining talk at IATEFL ‘A guide to pseudo-science in English language teaching’and reading his recent article ‘Tales of the Undead’ at ELTJAM. The #AusELT chat on this topic traversed such things as Suggestopedia, urban myths, the potential harm of PS,  waste of resources, nasal learners, zodiac textbooks, the divorcing of VAKS from multisensory input and exorcism (I bet you’re sorry you missed this one).

So let’s look at what went down.  A core part of the chat looked at the potential or lack of harm PS can have on ESL. On one side there was the opinion that yes it does cause harm supported by a slide from Russel Mayne’s presentation. @SophiaKhan4 noted that “some people put a lot of time/effort into e.g. A Suggestopedia lesson. Should this be happening in this century?”

















While on the other side some participants believed that the harm was not apparent.  In particular @michaelegriffin wasn’t “convinced as @ebefl that the harm is so great or so clear.” @trylingual noted that writers who support PSs must influence trainees but also went onto to raise the point of urban myths and their lack of harm.












The discussion then moved towards the weak acceptance of PS and that it could be used as a form of content to generate discussion. @michaelegriffin said he uses things like horoscopes and learner style surveys and that he was not “indoctrinating folks into it”. @trylingual saw this as “a weak acceptance of PSs for a purpose”.

The conversation then moved towards VAKS. A division was made by @michaelgriffin that “potential problems come when we try to teach based on VAKS, LS or MI”.  @Sophia Khan believed that “variety/change of pace is just good, and ps human cognition inevitably draws on ALL available resources. “  Also others agreed about keeping activities varied.


Russell Mayne @ebefl got out of bed at this point and noted:











@chimponobo made the point that PS could have a positive washback on the classroom with more varied activities being used. Russell Mayne @ebefl responded to this by saying “it could. But is there another way to get this positive feedback without the magical thinking??”

The discussion then moved towards waste of resources and @SophiaKhan4 said “would hard-up teachers be better off spending their pd budget on other things?” @Chimponbo responded by not remembering seeing much money being spent on these types of resources. An odour based curriculum was briefly broached which you can read more about in the links.  At this point @MichaelChesnut2 provided a formula “opportunity costs in teaching: A vs B vs C in teaching & time/effort.”

@Sophia Khan made the point why are we even bothering with PS. While @sujava believed “Alt methods, any methods – the more you know the more tools you have up your sleeve when needed.”

@trylingual drew attention to Mike Smith on the #AusELT Facebook page who talked about teacher enthusiasm (for PSs). Mike Smith said “Bottom line is, teachers are more successful and effective if they are passionate and enthusiastic. The same is true of learners, and we can all relate to inspirational teachers in our past.” Following this some articles were shared on teachers doing research papers on PS. Also the “baloney detection kit” was mentioned (see links at the end of the article). Also @ebefl was asked to provide the best evidence against PS. @ebefl noted there is not much criticism in the EFL literature of NLP except Thornbury 2001 (see links at the end of the article).

An appropriate way to end the chat is how @michaelegriffin was inspired:












So Pseudo Science friend or foe? Where do you stand on this issue?


Post written by Damien Herlihy, @chimponobo


Glossary of Acronyms/Terms

Nasal Learners – Learners who acquire languages more effectively through the use of the olfactory system.

Neuro-Linguistic Programing (NLP) – A half-baked mix of communication, personal development and psychotherapy that has risen into some language learning classrooms.

Pseudo-Science (PS) – Science that is not based on research such as ‘the world is round’ and ‘global warming’.

Suggestopedia –  Suggest a whole lot of stuff and get it adopted as an alternative teaching method.

VAKS – Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic & Sensory