Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 3 - My reflections from the 11th International METU Conference - Embracing Challenges

On the last day of the conference, Deniz Kurtoglu Eken started off the day with her plenary on Towards a Single Sea of Energy: Fostering Teacher Motivation in the Workplace. Deniz started her plenary by talking about kokolgy -  the Japanese study of mind, spirit and feelings. We were asked to imagine a blank white coffee mug of our own shape and imagine a blue pattern we would paint on the mug. The possible patterns were then associated with different personality traits. 

Deniz moved on to discuss her research, carried out  with 100 teachers. Teachers were asked which people positively affect their motivation in the work place. The most common response was students, followed by friends in the work place and then colleagues

When asked to describe their professional development with a metaphor. Metaphors used included climbing mountains, journey, boat, owl, cliff, orchestra, roots, and a volcano. 

Teachers were next asked for their perceptions of the overall effectiveness of certain factors in their current work place. Language teaching methodology topped the list, with technology supported teaching and learning a close second. For factors which received low ratings, teachers were asked to give suggestions on what could be done. Some suggestions for fostering teacher motivation included:

  • Higher salaries
  • More preparation time
  • Appreciation - thank you notes
  • More interaction between admin and teachers
  • Increasing ownership
What can we do to increase motivation around us? Some suggestions from Deniz: 
  • Don't see apologising as a weakness
  • When you say thank you really mean it
  • Don't expect everything to be crystal clear, embrace the challenge to find out
  • Don't dwell on petty little details - look at the bigger picture
  • Be fair, be just
  • Be careful of the Matthew effect - people who have more advantages get more in time, those with less opportunities get even less opportunities in time. 
  • Personal development is important or professional development will not take place.

And finally Deniz suggested that it's important to have some social time for teachers within working hours. Activities carried out Sabanci University include tarot reading, massages, henna, facial masks .... with wine and cookies. :)

Coffee time :)

Suzan Oniz kept the audience entertained during her workshop on free online corpora for collocation teaching. She categorised collocations as:

Strong collocations - one word is decisive and makes the difference e.g. vent you anger, harbour a grudge, call off a wedding / match (but you can't call off a class). 

Weak collocations - go with everything and generally work across language e.g. long journey, good idea

Medium - strong collocations are problematic e.g. break off, over hear

Why are collocations important for foreign language learners? Suzan explained that collocations:
  • Enrich word treasury
  • Increase fluency & quick production of language
  • Reduce grammar mistakes
Some suggestions for teaching collocations include:
  • Grouping words
  • Corpus analysis - find collocations, work out patterns, create exercises by manipulating the data
  • Fly swatter activity 
  • Pairing / matching activities
  • Using the Compleat Lexical tutor

Thank you for the practical ideas Suzan!

The conference ended with a raffle and cocktail :) 
Thank you to the organisers and all the participants for making it a truly memorable occasion :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 2 (part 2) - My reflections from the 11th International METU Conference - Embracing Challenges

Claudia Harsch discussed Writing Assessment and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEF) in her plenary. Points outlined included:

  • Different approaches to assessing writing
  • Task characteristics 
  • Rating - holistic vs analytic
  • Practical implications for rater training and scaler implementation

Claudia looked at test specifications and stressed that level specific criteria is needed for different levels eg. if the writing task at beginners level is writing a postcard then rating should reflect the characteristics of the task. 

A sample writing task at B1 level adapted from an authentic text. 

Holistic vs Analytic rating - the pros and cons. 

Nicky Hockly's workshop on Digital Literacies focused on the digital literacy of  mobile literacy. Nicky gave some practical ideas on how a mobile literacy lesson could be taught. For example give students messages to decipher and ask which are appropriate or inappropriate.  
  • Wot u doing 2nite
  • Pls send me info abt ur eng courses 4 nxt year
  • I want 2 apply 4 job in ydays nwspaper
  • Had gr8 time w John on hols
But should teachers be teaching this in class? Some  of the audience said 'yes', some 'no'. I agree with Nicky it can be controversial but it's good for recognition purposes.

Day 2 ended with the lively Teacher Trainer Panel on  Challenges in Teacher Training with Yeşim Güven, Deniz Kurtoğlu Eken, Hande Işıl Mengü, Beril Ayman Yücel and chaired by Tony Gurr. 

Tony started off the discussion by asking What are our biggest challenges? To which he got the response  'resistance'. The panel commented that resistance is natural. You should take it as it is and not impose on  colleagues. So what should we do? We need to look at the surrounding context. What is the story behind resistance? Try and understand this. 'Burn out' may be one reason. Look at the ways of tackling that resistance and try find solutions. 

Tony's next question - Is a teacher's language proficiency a problem? 

Responses from the panel included - awareness level of the teacher is important. Language problems need to be addressed i.e. institutional support, a course. There is less investment in schools now so we can't expect language proficiency to be what it was. We should tell people to correct our language whatever the problem. We should also highlight other people's mistakes because if we don't, who will? This is necessary for development.  

What do teachers do to promote teacher training?
  1. Do professional presentations
  2. Carrying out research e.g. classroom research
  3. Developmental classroom observations
  4. Developing a teacher training program

Day 2 ended with the Gala Dinner :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 2 (part 1) - My reflections from the 11th International METU Conference - Embracing Challenges

During the conference, I stayed in the Aysel Sabuncu Guest House with many of the overseas presenters. This guest house is a little isolated and situated on the outskirts of the campus forest. For the duration of the conference, we had our own little guest house 'family'. Here we are, bright and early on the conference shuttle on day 2 of the conference. Fond memories and a 'big' hello to you all  :)

On day 2, June 1st, the first plenary speaker was Simon Borg who talked about Teachers' Beliefs about Learner Autonomy (LA). Simon discussed how students beliefs on education play an important role and how conceptions based on previous educational background affect their university education. 

Based on his Learner Autonomy research carried out in Oman some points Simon discussed were:

How do teachers promote LA?
  • Talking to students about it
  • Encouraging learners to be autonomous
  • Getting learners to reflect
  • Using autonomous activities in class
  • Setting autonomy activities out of class

What obstacles do teachers face?
  • Institutional factors- syllabus, assessment
  • Learner factors- lack of incentive, focus on passing tests, low proficiency in English, limited outside contact with English, limited experience of autonomous learning, dependence on the teacher 
  • Teacher factors  - underestimate students capacity for LA
  • LA is valued as a concept
  • LA is strongly associated with choice
  • Most Teacher's feel they promote LA
  • There are multiple interpretations of LA
Simon's Report for the British Council on Learner autonomy: English language teachers' beliefs and practices can be found at

Tony Gurr's plenary on Embracing the Challenge of 21st Century Teaching  was colourful and entertaining. Tony started his plenary by talking about today's younger generation born after 1990 or  Generation C....

  • Connected
  • Communicating
  • Content centric 
  • Computerised
  • Community-oriented 
  • .... Always clicking
He quoted Friedrich, Le Merle, Peterson & Koster (2012) 'In the course of the next 10 years, a new generation - Generation C - will emerge…As they grow up, this highly connected generation will live “online” most of their waking hours…' So where does this leave  the teachers? According to Tony, the good news is -  technology won't replace teachers...but teachers who use technology will replace teachers who do not.

But beware... are we a) language teachers or b) technology teachers? We need to be careful and always keep 'language' in the forefront and not get too carried away with technology. The roles of today's teacher include - the learner, the model, the risk-taker, the collaborator and the 'adaptor'. 

Many thanks to Tony for the entertainment. For more information visit Tony's blog at or follow @tonygurr

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Day 1 - My reflections from the 11th International METU Conference - Embracing Challenges

The 11th International METU Conference - Embracing Challenges was held in Ankara, 31 May - 2 June.

The conference kicked off on May 31st with Eli Henkel's plenary on Academic Writing - the Vocabulary Connection.

How important is vocabulary?
Eli quoted Wilkins to emphasise the importance - 'The fact is that while without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed' (Wilkins; 1972). She stressed that if use of vocabulary is good, grammar tends to be overlooked.

How about our learners?

Eli explained that early vocabulary learning is easy because it includes highly frequent words but, less frequent words are harder to learn and need to be taught i.e. academic vocabulary because it  does not occur in daily interaction and conversational exchanges. 

How do we teach academic vocabulary?
The secret Eli stressed time after time throughout her plenary is review review review! Encourage your learners to use flash cards - they are easy to carry and are practical to review vocabulary. In fact, research shows that flash cards reflect the single most efficient way to learn vocabulary.  Give learners a writing activity and encourage them to use the new vocabulary. Have vocabulary quizzes in class, this encourages learners to review vocabulary outside class. 

Eli's final words of wisdom for vocabulary teaching - review review review!!

Nicky Hockly, the second plenary speaker of the day, talked about Digital Literacies.  

Do we really need to be digitally literate? The answer is 'yes'. Nicky had most of the audience fooled with the internet information she presented on the tree octopus. Conclusion - be careful with the information you find on the internet - show students how to analyse web sites. For example - look at hyperlinks (beware if there are many within one paragraph), style of the language (is the language accurate?), the url (does it look official or suspicious?) and images (are the images real?)

Nicky referred to Mark Pegrum's four main areas in digital literacy:
1) Focus on Language
2) Focus on Information
3) Focus on Connections
4) Focus on (re) design

and suggested how these can be integrated in the language classroom. 

An example of (re)design would be to 'remix' something. Nicky illustrated this by showing a literal video of a Harry Potter trailer We then discussed how remix can be exploited in class.

The tree octopus lesson plan can be found at

In Talip Karanfil, Erhan Guzel and Steve Neufeld's workshop on  Lowering the Affective Filter with Text-To-Speech Animations in Class Dialogues they demonstrated how to use GoAnimate.GoAnimate is a free online tool for preparing self-made videos and works in collaboration with YouTube. Students prepare their own dialogues and then transfer this to GoAnimate. There are a variety of scenarios to choose from. In the workshop, we used wild animals and watched our self-created dialogues being brought to life on YouTube with wild animals.