Niovi Hatzinikolaou started her presentation with a brief introduction to her research topic explaining her focus on the teaching of speaking and on state school education. She expressed her belief that speaking tends to be a neglected skill which stresses the need for research into how it is administered in the context of the state school classroom and into what should be improved in the current practices. Niovi then went on to present to the audience the speaking aims which are reflected in the syllabus of the state school textbook. As most people attending the talk were state school EFL teachers, this was not new to them. After outlining her research aims and giving some information about the data collection procedures (interviews, observations, syllabus evaluation), Niovi moved to the result part. She showed some quotes from interviews with the teachers where they seemed to agree on the priority of teaching speaking and enabling learners develop spoken fluency. According to the results, however, the teachers rated the effectiveness of textbook speaking activities very low and had a number of concerns about the design and the relevance of the material to real life situations. They also admitted that they supplement activities where needed to achieve their aims.
Later on, Niovi presented the audience with her classroom observation schedule and explained the procedure she had followed to record the teacher practices in real time. Before coming to what she observed, the presenter showed to the audience two speaking activities taken from the actual textbook and asked them to evaluate them themselves. The feedback was very interesting stressing both positive and negative aspects of those activities. A very obvious conclusion was a mismatch between syllabus guidelines (which reflects material writer’s policies) and actual practices. In other words, a mismatch between what is supposed to be done regarding speaking and what is actually being done.
At that point, the presenter encouraged the audience to respond to and comment upon the observations. Being teachers themselves and maybe having experienced similar problems in the classrooms while teaching speaking, some of the audience had very strong views about what needs to be done for learning outcomes to be achieved.
The session ended up with a very fruitful conversation about how teacher practices can overcome textbook boundaries including changes in the syllabus design and even a shift in the Ministry’s policy about teaching English. The positive feedback from the audience encouraged Niovi to conduct further research on the topic: "I was very glad to share my thoughts with practitioners and get a lot of different ideas on the topic which encouraged me (as some people also did) to take my research a step further. I really enjoyed my interaction with the audience and I really felt my topic was worth investing."
Interviewed by Christina Chorianopoulou
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