Sunday, March 12, 2017

24th TESOL Macedonia Thrace Convention Report by Eleni Kampadaki

(this entry is a host article written for TESOL Greece Newsletter by the TESOL Greece representative Eleni Kampadaki).

This year’s TESOL Macedonia Thrace Convention attracted many teachers from Greece and abroad, and hosted distinguished speakers who set trends and presented techniques that signal a world of change.

On Saturday, Ms Marisa Constantinides in her plenary, stressed the importance of creative teaching in developing students’ creative thinking skills. She illustrated this with a variety of interactive activities that the audience really enjoyed.

In the second plenary of the day, Professor Sugata Mitra presented his projects - “the Hole in the Wall”, “the Self Organised Learning Environment”, “the Granny Cloud” and “the School in the Cloud”, all of which, point to the future of learning. He revealed to us that he has serious evidence to believe that what makes his projects really successful is the fact that “children in groups have an understanding that is greater than that of each individual’. The metaphor he used for this was very vivid: “the hive knows everything”, he said.

On Sunday, Dr Marina Mattheoudakis made us all wonder about what - if anything - has actually changed as regards the teaching of the English language in Greek state schools since its introduction in the National Curriculum. The conclusion of her very enlightening talk was that a bottom-up reconstruction of the educational system must be implemented, meaning that every single teacher has to change his/her own class. 

During the two days of the convention a lot of very inspiring concurrent talks and workshops took place. 

Danny Singh’s workshop dealt with the issue of how to learn English through the mind and the body, turning passive listening, shopping lists, and subtitled films into simple steps to improve students’ competence. Angelos Bollas conducted a very powerful workshop on how affectively engaging topics can increase students’ motivation and have a better effect on their learning. Ms Spyridoula Kokkali pleasantly surprised us and moved us by explaining all about a project called “Healthy Little Eaters” that has really changed the eating habits of her students and has sensitized a whole community in Corfu to environmental issues.

Mr Leo Selivan in his plenary talk had us pondering on error (or mistake) correction in writing. The point he really managed to make was that there are many cases in which a student’s error that at first glance might seem as a grammatical one is indeed evidence of a lack in his / her lexis, and it should thus be remedied accordingly. 

It is also worth mentioning that the members of the Board as well as the volunteers did their best throughout the conference in order to cater for all our needs and make us feel most welcome. On the whole, it was a convention worth attending, that raised our awareness to so many trends and techniques of our ever changing world. 

By Eleni Kampadaki
For TESOL Greece

Note from the Editor: [First published in the TESOL Greece Newsletter, issue 133, p23]

Sunday, March 5, 2017

ELT in Greece: What has actually changed? - Report on Dr. Marina Mattheoudakis's Plenary Talk

On the second full day of the 24th Annual TESOL Macedonia Thrace Convention, Dr. Marina Mattheoudakis delivered a highly energizing Plenary Talk to a full house in the Bissell Library, American College of Thessaloniki.   Dr. Mattheoudakis’ warm and dynamic speaking style immediately engaged her audience, and her highly informative presentation kept us all engaged throughout her talk.  

                                                                                                                                   photo by Vassiliki Mandalou

Dr. Mattheoudakis began by explaining that foreign language instruction in Greek state schools is conceptualized within a more encompassing E.U. language policy, which advocates pluralingualism through foreign language education. The E.U. initiative aims to promote lifelong learning, to strengthen creativity and to encourage entrepreneurialism in Europe through a program of high quality foreign language instruction. Despite these worthy goals, however, recent legislation in the Greek Parliament seems to undermine their long-term viability.  As a response to this dilemma, Dr. Mattheoudakis suggested the possibility of classroom-based educational change which recognizes the crucial role of teachers as agents of change in a bottom-up grassroots reform movement. 

Dr. Mattheoudakis then provided a historical overview of foreign language instruction in Greece, and the special role of English as a foreign language within this scenario. Although Greek public policy of 1832 required foreign language instruction in all public schools, it wasn’t until 1945 that EFL was adopted as part of the secondary school curriculum. Beginning in the 1960’s, several academics, such as Professors Efstathiadis and Tokatlidou in Thessaloniki, and Professor Dendrinos in Athens, lobbied for improved foreign language instruction in Greek state schools. As a result of such efforts, by the 1990’s the number of contact hours was increased in all state foreign language classrooms, and high quality classroom instruction was prioritized. 

Continuing this innovative agenda, the National Curriculum for Foreign Languages of 2011 required that all foreign languages must be taught with analogous approaches, and the number of contact hours was increased from three to four hours per week.  However, the National Curriculum was never fully implemented, and in fact, recent years have seen a reduction of contact hours in foreign language classrooms in Greece.  Dr. Mattheoudakis then summarized recent legislation in the Greek parliament from 2016-2017 which seems to undermine the ability of teachers to deliver quality foreign language instruction. She also reported that not surprisingly, the vast majority of learners do not trust the state educational system and thus seek instruction outside of the state system.

                                                                                                                      photo Vassiliki Mandalou

As a response to this disjunction, Dr. Mattheoudakis suggested a more pro-active approach which foregrounds the crucial role of classroom teachers in bringing about change. By working more closely with the parents of their students, teachers can help to counter the negative effects of recent legislation on student learning.  For example, teachers can help parents understand that a heavy emphasis on exam scores rather than innovative instruction negatively affects students’ ability to develop genuine language proficiency.  Students should be encouraged to develop fluency, rather than accuracy, and parents should support their children’s efforts to develop fluency and communicative competence in foreign languages.

Teachers in public schools can also work to upgrade their teaching in a number of ways.  For example, teachers can find ways to use social media and other technologies more regularly in their teaching.  Teachers can also make learning more relevant to students by connecting their learning objectives to students’ lives and priorities outside of the school context. By making instruction appealing to students, teachers can create more meaningful learning experiences for their students.  In this way, teachers become active agents of change, rather than passive consumers of a state-generated curriculum which foregrounds test results at the expense of active learning.

Dr. Mattheoudakis ended her talk by reminding teachers that ultimately, each one of us has the power to shape what happens in our respective classrooms.  In particular, teachers can counter the trickle-down effects of a weakened economy by introducing educational innovation to upgrade their teaching practice, wherever and whenever possible.  As Dr. Mattheoudakis reminded us in her closing statement,  “If you want changes in public education, you must be the agent of change.”  

Report by Linda Manney

Interview with Marina Mattheoudakis by Linda Manney

Trendy terms, tantalizing techniques and talented teachers in Thessaloniki - by Leo Selivan

(This is a report from the 24th TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Convention written by Leo Selivan. It is about his experience attending our Convention as a plenary speaker. The original post can be found here. We would like to than Leo Selivan for his wonderful contribution).

Earlier this month I had the pleasure to attend and the honour to present, for the first time, at the TESOL Macedonia-Thrace international convention in Thessaloniki. While the best thing about the conference - like with most ELT conferences lately - was catching up with teachers from my PLN, making new friends and connecting with professionals from all over Europe, here are highlights from some of the sessions I attended.

                                           Plenary talks are not discussed in this post

With its unusual title, Joan Macphail and Angeliki Apostolidou's workshop Trendy Terminology in the Flipping Classroom! (shouldn't it be Flipped Classroom? I thought) really caught my eye. And it lived up to the expectation. The presenters had just come back from TESOL summit On the Future of TESOL Profession - an exclusive, by invitation-only event organised by TESOL International in Athens. Apparently, the summit had been accompanied by introduction of more obscure terminology such as doing translaguaging and METP (Multilingual English teaching professional). This set the scene for the lively discussion among the participants about whether trendy terms have a facilitating or debilitating effect on teachers. We also discussed whether such things as top-down / bottom-up processes or skimming / scanning, are indeed dichotomies or complementary concepts. Set up in a true workshop style it was one of those sessions where learning came from interaction with the participants who were discussing and sharing ideas.

Concluding Day 1 was an engaging workshop by enthusiastic Magdalena Wasilewska who showed us how she exploits short films to enhance communication. Considering my own interest in using video in the classroom, I easily fall for sessions on the topic and often get disappointed in the process. This wasn't the case here. Magdalena, who has just started her blog, shared some interesting techniques, which I am definitely going to try out on my students. Some resources she introduced us to were: - a database of movie trailers an ad analytics tool - you can ignore the analytics and just browse hundreds of TV commercials

And here's one of the most memorable (and powerful) videos Magdalena demo'ed in her workshop. See an accompanying lesson plan on her blog - click HERE

Day 2 highlights included Daniella De Winter's workshop on dyslexia, in which she introduced her own method called SoftRead, accompanying her fascinating presentation with short videos of dyslexic learners of all ages. Daniella's knowledge of the difficulties experienced by dyslexic readers was matched by her enthusiasm as a speaker.

More networking in the afternoon at this rather intimate but truly international conference and, finally, Lindsey Steinberg Shapiro's session on memory. Earlier that day Lindsey had confessed to me that her topic somehow felt out of place and might have even been seen as old-fashioned among a dazzling array of presentations with the word "creative" or "creativity" in the titles. However, her presentation, hinged on the notion that memory is essential to any learning, was very well received. After using a simple diagram to demonstrate how memory works: encoding -> storage -> retrieval, Lindsey focused on different types of encoding:

semantic encoding (through context)
visual encoding (through visualisation)
auditory encoding (through the use of sub-vocal rehearsal aka 'phonological loop')

Drawing inspiration from Nick Bilbrough's book Memory Activities, Lindsey demonstrated several short, manageable activities with few instructions and very little prep on the part of the teacher, such as sentence swapping, noticing the differences and text reconstruction. The main takeaway message from the workshop was the more you work the language in working memory, the more likely it is to stay in the long term memory, because the two are in constant conversation with each other.

Thank you TESOL Macedonia-Thrace for inviting me to present at the conference. I can't wait to go back in the future!

Memorable quotes
Testing is too important to be left to testers - Luke Prodromou
In order to think out of the box we need to fill the box first - Lindsey Steinberg-Shapiro

Other random bits
There was a woman among the French impressionists - Mary Cassat, as I learned in Dimitris Tzouris's session Google Arts & Culture in Education

For a report from my workshop L2 Writing: From Grammatical Mistakes to Lexical Opportunities, click HERE

For more reports and summaries, visit the TESOL Macedonia-Thrace blogsite - click HERE

                                                                                                                                 photo collage by Leo Selivan

From left to right and top to bottom: Taverna night; with Rob Howard, Danny Singh and Daniella De Winter in the hotel lobby; theatre performance by Luke Prodromou et al; Magdalena interacting with her audience; me with the conference poster; Daniella sharing her knowledge; Lindsey in action

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Importance of Being (an) Earnest (Peer-Assessor) – Report on Galina Velichkova’s Session

Making an allusion to Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of Being Earnest”, Mrs Galina Velichkova stressed out the importance of the word “earnest” as the main point on the role of the teachers in the peer assessment sessions and what they might and should do to prepare and organize PA sessions, ensuring positive outcomes in terms of learning objectives.

                                                                                                  photo by Dimitra Christopoulou

Generally speaking, PA is hot water reinvented. Actually, it has been around for years and the first scholar to discuss its cognitive benefits and propose an application methodology was Prof. George Jardine. According to G. Jardine  “By participating in collaborative learning settings students develop interpersonal traits and skills “indispensable” at once to the cultivation of science and to the business of active life”. Later, in the US Jerome Burner with his article “The Uses of Immaturity”, cited case studies of peer – assisted learning and pointed out the tutored students exhibited “a considerable increase in scholastic performance”,  encouraging students to assume responsibility for the each other’s academic progress whereas teachers will also foster a notable increase in self – worth and group pride of the students. What is more, the Dutch scholars Jan Willem and Dominique draw the attention to the holistic approach to assessment, which is very fruitful for students who benefit from reflection and deliberation. Keith Topping, Nancy Falchikov also had a significant contribution to the study of peer assessment, according to Keith by taking up responsibilities which raise learners’ confidence and as for N. Falchikov by putting the accent on using criteria and applying standards as the key for developing the skill to give really constructive, justifiable feedback.

 Mrs Velichkova carried on by emphasizing the benefits of PA in the contemporary classroom. Trust, Responsibility, Instant abundant feedback, Benevolent atmosphere and Professional training – 360* Assessment are facts that should be taken into great consideration. By Trust among students and between students and teachers, judgements will be objective and helpful. By transferring the Responsibility for the outcome off the learning process is indeed quite significant. Furthermore, by Instant abundant feedback will be richer in opening the negotiation between teachers and students as well as an enthusiastic idealist of a teacher provides and relish the outcomes of a benevolent team atmosphere. 

Peer Assessment may cure some classroom ailments but it is not a panacea. Consequently, apart from promoting PA for meeting the needs of increasingly demanding audiences the role of the teacher is whether or not should he/she embrace the idea singleheartedly and become a peer rather than the only assessor. Moreover, in order to determine the scope and parameters of PA, there are three basic questions that should be paid attention to: Who to? What for? and How? Research has shown that students with higher level of competence have proved to produce feedback with higher level of reliability, especially in language classes. On the other hand, students at higher levels are not exactly incompetent in certain spheres compared to the average teacher, in fact they are exposed to an unprecedented flood of spoken and written messages, fighting for their attention and aiming to induce certain actions. Secondly, spoken production such as monologues, debate argument, presentations and pitches require skills that can hardly be measured using scales and bands designed to measure linguistic ability.

                                                                                                                  photo by Dimitra Christopoulou

So how can we determine the type of assessment? According to Mrs Velichkova the procedure itself is far from that of the standardized exams and it has some features of more than one type of assessment. She focused on the three basic ones which are the Formative, must be Criterion based and Diagnostic. 

Applying PA  as a way of optimizing the learning process has some benefits but there are also some risks that get involved. Reduced anxiety of the formal grading, multiple attempts (formative assessment) allowing gradual improvement benefit the whole classroom, whereas an adequate timetable is drawn from the start and strictly observed throughout and feedback is available to all students at all times and is easy to analyze can be the risks. As for the benefits for each individual student among many it gives the opportunity to witness real-life examples of both success and failure. And for those assessed are benefited from formative assessment that endures opportunities for multiple attempts. What are the benefits for the teacher? Actually, these are quite significant as it enables the teacher to use “exercise” for diagnosing learning gaps as well as problems with communication with or among students and conceive ways of solving them with view to what students need. It saves time and of course eliminates doubts concerning objectivity. 

Concluding, Mrs Galina Velichkova in her exceptional talk pointed out that Peer Assessment is a widely discussed, widely researched, a warmly recommended practice, yet, there is still the need of outlining the possible benefits of using it in the classroom as well as the risks involved. 

Report by Dimitra Christopoulou