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Inside IATEFL – A Peek into the Associates’ Day 2022

in Professional Development

IATEFL associate members are groups who are affiliated to the organisation and agree to act as ambassadors. In return, they get certain benefits, including one free place at the IATEFL conference – on condition that the delegate attends the Associates’ Day. This year I was lucky enough to be the ELTAU representative.

Rachel at the Associates’ Day

It was my first time at an IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference and the first time I really began to understand what the Associates’ community looks like.

It soon became apparent that Germany is somewhat of an anomaly: most other attendees seemed to be representing a country group. A few examples:

  • English Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh
  • Croatian Association of Teachers of English
  • Nile TESOL Egypt
  • IATEFL Hungary
  • Association of English Teachers in Iceland
  • the Japan Association for Language Teaching
  • TEFL Kuwait
  • IATEFL Peru

Meanwhile, I was there representing the regional association ELTAU – alongside board members of ELTAS, ELTAF, HELTA and ELTA Rhine. A definite German presence!

Another factor that seemed to set us apart from the majority of the other attendees was that their Associations work primarily with school teachers. Moreover, many have co-operations with government ministries or receive grants from state bodies. German regional ELTAs on the other hand are mostly self-funding and have a large proportion of self-employed members, I would say.

We were led through the day by Jean Theuma, the Associate Representative on the IATEFL board. The programme had several elements:

  • Get-to-know-you activities in small groups
  • Brainstorming and collating answers to a set of questions about the needs of more and less experienced teachers and how our organisations can attract, retain and nurture them
  • A poster presentation from three of the Associations in attendance
  • Spoken presentations from some of the Associations. They introduced
    themselves and particular aspects of their work or highlights from the year
  • News from the IATEFL board and a look ahead to changes afoot

The spoken presentations highlighted the variety of contexts, scale and creative ideas that the different Associations embody. It was quite amazing to hear about activities from national conferences, to summer camps focussed on Irish culture, to a members’ hall of fame, to round tables and peer-reviewed writing.

Some IATEFL News

At the end of the day, Jean gave a presentation to fill us in on the current activities of the organisation.

IATEFL:

  • has 40 associate members
  • intends to collaborate more closely with the British Council over the
    coming months
  • plans to offer more opportunities to Associates for funding and networking
    and would like to encourage more activity from Associate Members in the IATEFL Voices newsletter

She also informed us of something which affects Associate organisations directly:

IATEFL has revised its guidelines on branding, and will no longer allow local associations to include the acronym ‘IATEFL’ in their title. She outlined the reasons and assured everyone that there was a two-year transition phase and support from IATEFL would be available. For some associations, however, the news came as somewhat of a bombshell as it will require them to change their names.

I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to participate in this day, and indeed the whole conference. As it was still relatively small compared to previous years, I bumped into several of the Associate members over the course of the next four days and they felt like familiar faces. One contact made at the Associates’ Day has led to a workshop in collaboration with ELTA Rhine in the autumn.

Personal contact really is worth a great deal!

***

If you’d like to find out more about how the organisation works, check out the IATEFL website.
Follow this link for upcoming IATEFL events.

 

shadow of a head with puzzle pieces
Photo credit: Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Dealing with Differences: Navigating the Neurodiverse Language Classroom

in Professional Development

What is neurodiversity and how does it affect language learning? How can we identify learners who may have specific learning differences and what should we do then? And perhaps most importantly: How do we deal with differences in a neurodiverse classroom?

Neurodiversity is a convenient term for the whole range of cognitive differences that we might find in our classroom. As a species, we humans are neurodiverse. That is, we all have slightly different cognitive profiles, so that some of us find some things more difficult than others do.

There are some individuals who seem noticeably different from their peers, and these people may have a specific learning difference (SpLD), such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. SpLDs are best thought of as different ways of perceiving the world, processing information and interpreting sensory input. They are not illnesses, or disorders – just differences.

The most commonly identified SpLDs are:

  • dyslexia
  • dyspraxia
  • dyscalculia
  • AD(H)D
  • autism

They affect language learning in different ways, but there is a lot of overlap and common ground between them, too. Here is a list of key characteristics and common features of these SpLDs:

How can we identify learners with specific learning differences and what should we do then?

If we notice that a learner is  displaying some of the characteristics laid out in the table above, it might be a clue that we might need to keep a closer eye on them, and perhaps start to do some further exploration to identify their barriers to learning.

Observation is the key to recognising which learners may be experiencing difficulties. It’s something that all teachers do – even subconsciously – so that we can manage the classroom: knowing who is likely to start tasks first, who will want to ask a lot of questions before they begin, who will finish first, and who will be easily distracted.

It is helpful to make a note of any unexpected behaviours that we notice so that we can see if they are just a one-off or if they are patterns that may indicate a long-term issue. We can ask other members of staff to share their perspectives and see if the same issues arise in other contexts, outside of our classroom.

If, after a short period of observation, an SpLD is suspected, an informal conversation with the student would be helpful to find out how they see the situation and reassure them that we are going to do whatever we can to support them.

We could ask about their home life, how they are enjoying their English course (and other subjects) and whether they or anybody else in their family has ever experienced these kinds of difficulties before. This may be a way to open the conversation about possible screening, or further assessment.

Doing some detective work

In order to determine if it is an SpLD or just a temporary situation brought about by physical or mental ill health (e.g. stress, anxiety) there are certain things we need to consider. We should try to find out as much as possible about:

  • the student’s background
  • their literacy development
  • their memory
  • their speed of processing
  • their phonological processing

We can start to gather information about the student and their background through observation and conversation. A questionnaire, where they answer questions about previous educational and life experiences, could help make this more concrete. This could cover elements of cognitive function such as memory, speed of processing and phonological processing, which might tie in with the information gathered through observation in the classroom setting.

There may be a person in your school or college who is responsible for supporting learners with SpLDs, and it would be helpful to work with them to decide the best way forward. Using the screening tool ‘Cognitive Assessments for Multilingual Learners’ (available from the ELT well website) can be a useful means of gathering all of this information, and also of making sense of what the data is indicating.

Formal assessment is not always necessary if the teacher is able to adapt to the learners’ different ways of working.

How do we deal with differences in a neurodiverse classroom?

This is the question that many teachers find most challenging, as there are so many ways that learners can be different. As noted at the beginning of this article, we are a neurodiverse species!

The key is to try to implement inclusive teaching practices in as many ways as possible, thinking about the learning environment, the materials you are using and the tasks you set, and most importantly, the relationships that are encouraged in the class.

Classroom environment

Remembering that some learners may be very sensitive to the physical environment, it is good practice to check that everyone is happy with the temperature in the room, as well as the lighting, noise levels, the equipment available and the layout of the furniture.

There may not be much that teachers can do about some of these things, but at least indicating that you are aware of these barriers can make learners feel more included, and cope better with some discomfort. Bringing their issues to the attention of the school management may result in changes that would benefit everybody.

Materials and tasks

Not all teachers are able to choose which materials are used on a course, but where possible, it is helpful to choose handouts or books that have a very clear layout. Images over text make it hard to read, and too much information on a page can be daunting. If the characters broadly represent the members of the group, that can be very motivating.

But the key with any materials is the way in which they are used.

Teachers may want to supplement coursebooks with additional resources or pick out key activities to focus on. Ideally, learners would be led through a section of new material in small steps, securing each bit with lots of recapping and revising before moving on. Incorporating multisensory activities that engage multiple senses at once is useful for this.

Explicit instructions and feedback are crucial, and getting learners to reflect on their learning is a valuable tool in developing self-awareness of their own learning processes.

Relationships

Good relationships between the teacher and the students, as well as between the students, are fundamental to any inclusive classroom. Creating opportunities for everyone to get to know and understand each other (and themselves) leads to greater levels of respect, acceptance and a sense of group belonging. It allows teachers to make better choices when putting students into pairs or groups so that students can bring out the best in each other.

It is the teacher’s job to create a nurturing environment for all learners, and to model the kind of supportive behaviours that we would want the whole class to adopt. This could mean looking for the positives and drawing attention to them (“Great idea!” “You really listened to your partner in that activity”,“I’m really pleased you came in time for the start of today’s lesson”) so that learners who are normally on the back foot (or always in trouble) can feel good about themselves, and about learning.

Stay positive, and have faith in your learners’ abilities to find their own strategies to cope with your class. Most importantly, show that you believe in them so that they can believe in themselves.

***

Suggested resources

Evens, M. & Smith, A.M. (2019) Language Learning and Musical Activities Morecambe: ELT well [available from www.matthewevensmusic.com or www.ELTwell.com]

Kormos, J. and Smith, A.M. (2012) Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Smith, A.M (2015) Cognitive Assessments for Multilingual Learners. Lancaster: ELT well. [Available from www.ELTwell.com]

Smith, A.M. (2017) Including Dyslexic Language Learners. Lancaster: ELT well [available from www.ELTwell.com]

Smith, A.M. (Ed.) (2020) Activities for Inclusive Language Teaching: valuing diversity in the ELT classroom. London; Delta Publishing

Flashback: “Develop your C(O)RE: Intrapersonal Skills your Corporate Clients need to Learn” with Jeff Aristy

in Professional Development

With language teaching and coaching increasingly overlapping, being able to help your clients grow professionally is a valuable skill to have. At his recent Inter-ELTA workshop, Jeff Aristy spilled the tea on how to advance your own career and that of your clients using the C(O)RE model.

Quite the New Yorker, Jeff Aristy sure doesn’t waste time: this fast-paced workshop was just the right mix of information, activities and vibrant discussion. Only fair: the model he was presenting (originally created by Bo Graesborg in his book “C(O)RE or The Boaching Guide to Career Success”) is for people who are ready for new insights and growth in their personal and professional lives.

What’s your C(O)RE, and why is the O in brackets?

The acronym C(O)RE stands for four different key areas related to professional life, namely:

  • Competence
  • Opportunity
  • Relationships
  • Enterprise

While all of these are career-related, they are not always balanced:

We discussed that within corporate culture, there generally appears to be an over-reliance on competency/being good at what you do (C), at the expense of the other dimensions.

For example, building close relationships (R) can be met with a certain suspicion: it may seem effortless, at times inauthentic, and overrated (when in reality, it’s a soft skill worth cultivating). The result is a strong “C” and a weak “R”. On the other hand, in some cultures, it is possible to make up for a weak C with a strong R, because those place a higher value on relationships.

Opportunity (O) involves luck and external factors that are not fully within your control (hence the brackets). However, developing the O means preparing the ground for these to happen (through serendipity, networking, relationships, etc.), and learning to recognize and seize the right opportunities.

Finally, Enterprise (E) is about your most personal interests and passions. It helps you lead yourself and others, and can inspire you to make big career changes. Unlike R and C, E comes with self-knowledge and is to be discovered rather than actively developed.

So why does the C(O)RE model matter, and why is it advisable to strengthen all of the four aspects, and not just be a master of your chosen craft?

What got you here won’t get you there

The importance of the C(O)RE model lies in the fact that the skills that got you started won’t necessarily help you advance your career. Jeff gave us a video game analogy: what you need in order to succeed changes with each level.

 

Over the course of the game, you may need:

  • special boots to climb a mountain
  • a person who helps you
  • an energy drink
  • a sword

Likewise, you need different kinds of tools to get ahead in your professional life. Jeff had us discuss the question “What got you here?” in a breakout session. We came to find that what got us where we are today was a mixture of factors, including opportunity, relationships and curiosity.

Too much of a good thing can get in the way

To further illustrate the importance of using different tools, we discussed an example:

Daniel, a very competent corporate employee, sees an interesting job opening at his company. In theory, he’s the perfect match, and he thinks that his boss should notice and offer him the job. However, he ends up losing the opportunity to a less qualified colleague with better people skills.

Daniel’s mistake was relying too much on his competence (C), while ignoring relationships (R) and ways of seizing the opportunity at hand (O): He waited to get noticed instead of making his intentions known, so nobody knew he was interested in the job. If he had reached out to his superior, he might have stood a chance.

It is clear from this that developing your C(O)RE also means developing corporate intelligence and asking yourself these questions:

“Who makes decisions?”
“Who should I get in touch/build relationships with?”

Another factor was that Daniel was very good at what he was doing, so his company was happy for him to stay where he was. Thus, being a specialist can potentially make it harder for you to make a career change (conversely, being a generalist that is happy to wear many hats can be a real advantage).

Finding your E, finding your Why

Standing for Enterprise, the last letter in the C(O)RE model is about your motivation, interests and vision. As Jeff pointed out, it is something to be discovered rather than developed. It’s all about getting to know yourself better. Finding your biggest motivator and focusing your energy is an ongoing process, and you are the hero(ine) of your own journey when it comes to your E.

Jeff asked us:

“What gets you out of bed in the morning?”

If you have trouble answering the question, you can try to start observing yourself and what you enjoy (yes, the little things count as well). Being curious about yourself is the key to moving closer towards your E.

On the other hand, if your answer includes lots of responsibilities that make your head spin and bills to pay, there is much energy and motivation there (and likely a sense of being overwhelmed), but maybe not enough focus and emotional support. Finding someone who has your back and provides a sense of safety (such as a coach) can make a huge difference in terms of outlook and direction.

Jeff also made the point that goal-setting can have its pitfalls (the goals might be too big, poorly defined, difficult to obtain or not measurable). So one tip he gave us was to focus on change instead of fixed goals.

Example:

  • Goal: “I want to lose ten kilos, so I’ll start doing everything I can to achieve that goal… running, gym, whatever.”
  • Change: “I want to be more active –  if I lose ten kilos, great, but the key here is to adopt changes in my life irrespective of the goal.”

The advantage of the latter approach is that the changes don’t have to be huge, and that the outcome is more flexible and progress-oriented than achieving a precise goal that becomes meaningless once you’ve achieved it. So, it is more of an open-ended journey of discovery that helps you get to know yourself better (and thus develop your E).

Takeaways from the workshop

We found out that with the help of the C(O)RE model, you can assist your clients through:

  • Finding out what areas of their C(O)RE would benefit from being developed
  • Helping your clients strengthen those areas

For example, someone with a strong C may have trouble finding clients or a new position. You could help them develop their R by helping to improve their people skills, such as becoming a great listener and really understanding their clients’ needs. You could also help them develop corporate intelligence – knowing how to identify the right people and build relationships with them. (A bonus tip for introverts was creating comfortable networking situations by giving oneself a task, or showing other people something.)

Likewise, when your client is looking for a new job, R will help them get to know their future boss and peers, whom they’ll have to work and make decisions with. Interpersonal skills are a way of finding out who and what is compatible with them and their values, and what isn’t. They also open doors when you least expect it.

You could also work with clients on recognizing and seizing opportunities (O), cheer them on when they need it and help them build leadership skills (E). And finally, keep in mind that making gains in one area will have a positive impact on the other areas as well, as they are all interconnected.

This was an unusual, interactive workshop with multiple perspectives on professional development. We left happy and energized, with new insights and things to try out.

***

Jeff is the founder and Managing Director of GrowWerk GmbH, a training, coaching and consulting company based in Munich, Germany. He has made interpersonal and intrapersonal skills a cornerstone of his training work. You can find Jeff on growwerk.com.

Recommended reading

Bo Graesborg: “C(O)RE or The Boaching Guide to Career Success”

Susan Cain: “Quiet” (a book about career development for introverts)

Susan Scott: “Fierce Conversations” (a book about trustbuilding and authentic conversations leading to high levels of engagement)

 

Workshop Review: “Invisible Body Language” – Communicating in the Digital World with Sabrina Lucidi

in Professional Development

How do we express trust or distrust, engagement or empathy when we are speaking with someone sitting across from us? By smiling (or not), leaning in or away, physically opening up or crossing our arms, breathing in a calm way, or nodding. How about all this in a digital environment?

Guided by Sabrina Lucidi, 20 ELTA members who participated in this workshop on 26 March, started thinking about this. At the beginning, she wished us as much fun in the workshop as she had had preparing it. This sounded promising!

To begin with, we found ourselves equating ‘digital environment’ with ‘video calls’, and focussing on those. When we can see each other, similar principles apply in terms of body language (although we may need to be more explicit about nodding, using ‘reaction’ buttons and referring to people by name.

However, as Sabrina gently guided us to understand, much of our communication in the digital realm is in writing.

Communicating across time boundaries, geographically dispersed, communicating asynchronously, we rely heavily on instant messaging, chat, and email to communicate with one another. The absence of visual or auditory clues means that we have to create trust, empathy and emotion through different means.

Writing is the new speaking

Whether we realise it or not, the body language signals present in spoken conversation are replaced by other factors when communication is done in writing – the ‘invisible body language’ of the workshop title.

These factors include: emojis, spelling errors, choice of medium, response time, the time at which you write, amount of background information, and how and how often you thank people. Believe it or not, even punctuation plays a big role in expressing emotion, as Sabrina demonstrated with these three example WhatsApp responses:

a whatsapp message with different kinds of punctuation
Image: Sabrina Lucidi

How downbeat do you find a full stop? How aggressive is this for you: … ?

Exactly how these different responses are interpreted comes down to individuals, and our use of exclamation marks and other punctuation is affected by age, gender and personal preference. We realised this when Sabrina asked us to share what our ‘pet peeves’ are.

One person’s succinct may be another person’s caginess. One person’s speedy reply may include omissions and errors which their co-worker finds disrespectful. A short ‘thx’ may leave someone with the feeling that their hard work is not appreciated. So we all need to be considerate.

As Erica Dharwan states in her book Digital Body Language:

Reading carefully is the new listening, writing clearly is the new empathy.

It pays to become more aware of what messages we are sending and how we can make these more intentional, in order to reduce the risk of misinterpretation and increase the feeling of inclusion.

Tips for successful digital communication

Sabrina rounded off the workshop by suggesting some good practice guidelines when communicating digitally:

  • have an agreement on expected response times – maybe even include this information in the subject line (e.g. ‘2h’ means ‘please respond within 2 hours’ or ‘3d’ means ‘please action within 3 days’.)
  • as a sender, indicate clearly what is expected of the reader
  • as a responder, answer all the points in the sender’s original message
  • respond relatively quickly even if it is to say ‘I will get back to you on this’

We had fun looking at body language from a new perspective. Who knew that capital letters could equate to an excited grin?

***

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Gabriel Clark’s take on teaching with images.

Flashback: “Intercultural Competence in English” with European Language Competence

in Professional Development

To end the last year on a festive note, ELTABB teamed up with European Language Competence (ELC) and organised a free two-day training course in intercultural competence for English teachers. Alexandra Patent muses on her impressions and key takeaways.

Judith Mader and Rudi Camerer’s Intercultural Competence in English was a very informative workshop which provided us with a variety of classroom activities to improve our students’ intercultural competence – two reasons why I would definitely recommend attending the next one.

But perhaps the best part of the workshop for me was sharing anecdotes with my colleagues about our experiences, and reflecting on my own intercultural competence.

Day One

On the first day of the workshop, we spoke about the meaning of the term “culture”.
Although most people would automatically name their country of birth as their culture, Rudi and Judith stressed that cultures are more broadly “discourse communities”.
We belong to many different cultures apart from our nationalities, such as language communities, professional communities, religious communities, etc.

Many people would consider themselves to be part of the English language community, and learners of English are exposed to multiple varieties in the classroom, which may have stigmas or prestige attached to them. The trainers asked us to reflect on the varieties of English that we speak and/or teach and what attitudes learners can have towards these varieties.

Politeness vs. Accuracy

Regardless of variety, most English speakers can agree on some of the different ways in which we convey politeness  in the language. The focus of most of the first day was on the importance of politeness in effective intercultural communication.

One of the most interesting exercises that Judith and Rudi showed us had a list of pairs of sentences which expressed the same idea, but each sentence had an error. Sometimes it was a grammar error, sometimes a vocabulary error, and sometimes an error of politeness. The trainers then asked us to determine which error in the pair was “worse”.

Ultimately, it was clear that in the hierarchy of problematic errors, grammar is at the bottom, lexis is in the middle, and politeness is at the top. We forgive linguistic accuracy if politeness is present.

What’s important to remember about politeness is that it is culture-based and not inherent in language, so it is something that we have to consciously decide to teach our students.

Day Two

On the second day of the workshop, we spoke a bit about low context cultures, which don’t have a great deal of shared history or experience, resulting in more of a need for explicit communication.

High context cultures, on the other hand,  have a lot of shared experience, resulting in less of a need for explicit communication. Erin Meyer speaks quite a lot about this in her book The Culture Map, which Judith and Rudi mentioned several times, and which I would definitely recommend.

We also spoke briefly about tight cultures and loose cultures; tight cultures value consistency and rules, while loose cultures value fluidity and rule-breaking. If you’re interested in learning more about tight and loose cultures, the trainers recommended the book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers by Michele Gelfand, which I’m looking forward to reading.

What Rudi and Judith stressed most about all of these differences was that there is no “normal” when it comes to culture.

The importance of trust

The focus of the second day was on the theme of trust, which Judith and Rudi identified as the most valuable business commodity. They showed us a couple of different critical incidents and asked us to consider what went wrong and how we could have avoided the problem.

Critical incidents are useful exercises with regard to intercultural competence because they require us to reflect on how someone who comes from a different culture could perceive our actions.

This kind of activity is great for our students who work for international companies. It is also really important for us as EFL teachers because we work with people who come from all around the world. We talked about our experiences teaching international groups, and problems we have had in the past.

Although we all have such different professional backgrounds, issues such as punctuality, authority, and diligence came up across the board, so it was interesting to see how many similar kinds of challenges we have faced.

Final thoughts on the training course

All in all, I think we walked away from the workshop with a few more tricks up our sleeve in terms of intercultural competence activities and exercises to do with our students, and a lot more awareness of the influence our own cultures have on the way we think and act.

***

If you’re interested in intercultural training with Rudi and Judith, you can visit the European Language Competence website here.

Book Recommendations

Erin Meyer. The Culture Map.

Michele Gelfand. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers.

 

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