The main thing about the conference was that it was quite focused, intense and engaging. There were about 170 participants and the conference lasted three days. Each day I was travelling by bus to the campus early in the morning and returning late at night, mainly due to the excellent social events attached to the event and the many friends (new and not so new) that I was meeting and talking with as well. In this short write-up I will go over each plenary chronologically, mentioning any particularly interesting parallel sessions as well. However, in the interests of brevity, I will leave out the main content of each one. This is mainly because the entire conference was designed as a kind of ‘book launch’ for the edited volume by Dörnyei, MacIntyre, and Henry (2015) which is released by Multilingual Matters.
The first plenary was by Diane Larsen-Freeman, who talked about the field of motivation from an outsider (her own) perspective. This was an excellent plenary, and Diane was a great person to start the conference off because the main theme of the event was to see to what extent Chaos/Complexity Theory and Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) can facilitate a better understanding of the nature of L2 motivation. She gave a detailed and well-informed overview of the history of L2 motivation, and in particular highlighted elements that showed how well DST could complement the field. She put up quotes from Zoltán Dörnyei and others in which words like “complex” or “dynamic” or “interactions” were already being used to describe motivation and the way it changes and adapts over time. This was interesting, and provided an important starting point for the rest of the conference. Although Diane Larsen-Freeman’s plenary was excellent and provided a great tenet for applying DST to L2 motivation, I would have liked to have a bit more of an explanation about exactly what DST is and the basics of how it works. I have read papers about DST and Chaos/complexity theory, but I still felt a little lost at times when people spoke about attractor states and state-space landscapes. Dynamic Systems Theory is a complicated and technical theory, one which is used in physics and astronomy as well as multiple other disciplines. For this reason, although I have done some reading on the theory (De Bot, 2008; Larsen-Freeman, 1997; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008a; Martínez-Fernández, 2008), I still felt that some of the more technical aspects that occurred later in the conference (not so much in Diane’s plenary) were over my head. Luckily, this was addressed later on, on the last day of the conference during the panel. I will revisit this later, but during the closing panel Diane was asked to stand up and give her take on the conference. She said that for her “Complexity theory is a theory about teaching” and it reflected the interactions that take place in the classroom. All theories are tools for understanding, as Kim Noels later said, and Diane Larsen-Freeman certainly echoed that in what she talked about.
The second day was kicked off with a plenary from Zoltán Dörnyei. Before I mention his speech, I should also mention the wonderful introduction that was given by Marian Williams. Rather than introduce the man whose work we all knew so well, she told us that despite his fame he was not recognised by Microsoft’s spell check, and she read out the alternatives that it offered her. As she was talking about when she went to Hungary twenty years ago to meet Zoltán, a butterfly flew into the room. The butterfly was fluttering about during the whole introduction, and also parts of Zoltán’s talk. This seemed very apt to me and to others in the audience – it seemed to be a not just a reference to the butterfly effect which is an essential component of chaos theory, but also it represented the playfulness and joy that Zoltán himself exhibited throughout the conference. Zoltán’s plenary was a very interesting personal narrative of his experience from within the field as it changed and evolved from what it was in the early nineties to what it has become now. He talked about the paradigm shift that is taking place in applied linguistics and SLA in particular, and he regarded this as a good thing. He also criticised some of his own old models for being too linear, and he was visibly excited about complexity theory and the more dynamic representations of motivation it allows. However, in Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008b) the research methods which best fit DST are described unequivocally as being qualitative in nature, and obviously this could be a big problem for the field of L2 motivation, which has for a long time being marked by a preference for large-scale quantitative studies. This is something which Ema Ushioda has spoken about (and against) for some time (Ushioda, 2009, 2011). However, Zoltán Dörnyei pointed out that it would be counter-productive to ignore or forget all that has gone before. He concluded by advocating mixed-methods research as the best way to investigate motivation as a complex dynamic system, and he argued for research that focuses on the whole system and seeks for a holistic understanding rather than isolating certain components. This seems to be something that his students (many of whom were represented or presenting at the conference) have taken on already, and many of the papers being presented were mixed-methods. However, with this approach there is still a danger that the quantitative results are given precedence and that the qualitative data takes a back seat. This is not necessarily always due to poor research design, but this is a kind of washback effect of the field. For example when I was trying to get my MA thesis published I sent it to two journals, both of which came back with comments asking me for more focus on the questionnaire and quantitative elements of my study. I noticed too, that many of the parallel sessions I attended exhibited a preference to the quantitative data. Zoltán himself described such data as “nice” and describing a “perfect world” or “simple” view of it, although he also said that such quantitative data was failing in a big way to describe dynamic interactions. Zoltán highlighted the importance for journal editors and publishers to be more accepting towards qualitative studies. When somebody like Zoltán Dörnyei says such a thing, I think it really is indicative of a paradigm shift. Overall his plenary was excellent and provided a lot of food for thought, and made me very excited to see the book Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning. There was also a “random alligator” in his slideshow, which nobody knew why it was there. This was picked up on by many other presenters and became a kind of meme in the conference.
After that the first parallel sessions broke out. In the interests of brevity I will only mention the most notable sessions that I watched, and of course there were many great sessions that I watched, and even more that I missed. It really was painful sometimes choosing whose session to watch, since they all looked fascinating. Amy Thompson gave a very interesting talk about the anti-ought to self, in which she provided a very strong narrative of her research with very engrossing personal stories from two different learners. She talked about threatened or eliminated behaviour, giving the example of telling a child not to get a tattoo so the child gets one, and how this is a common cause of psychological reactance. She concluded that the anti-ought to self was initially a conflicting component of motivation, but that often it became complimentary, and she highlighted the small choices and chance decisions that contribute to people’s shallow and deep attractor states over time. Christine Muir gave a fascinating talk about Dynamic Motivational Currents or DMCs, and I also enjoyed Kay Irie and Stephen Ryan’s fascinating talk about learner’s self concept before and after study abroad programs, something which is certainly a big topic in Japan where I work. Their work used narratives and an interesting Q-methodology approach which allows for quantitative data whilst still prioritising qualitative methods and insights. Using narratives the authors were able to get their participants to reflect on powerful self-defining events which the students may not have realised the importance of until they were asked to provide the narratives.
After a short coffee break it was time for the third plenary by Kim Noels, who talked about Self-Determination Theory (SDT), using the example of an amoeba (self) and a paramoecium (L2). She also told us about an interesting project at the University of Southampton’s Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies (LLAS) which uncovered 700 reasons for studying a foreign language. Like many who subscribe to sociocultural perspectives, she argued that identity is negotiated through social interaction and that “SDT is a useful lens to understand dynamic systems theory”. She mentioned that all theories are tools and these tools are supposed to help us to understand reality. She also inserted a random alligator in reference to Zoltán Dörnyei’s early image and that got a lot of laughs. She ended by telling us all about the International Conference on Self-determination Theory which will be taking place next year.
After Kim Noels’ plenary I attended a parallel session by Tammy Gregersen and Peter Macintyre, which detailed their teacher training and empowerment sessions. It was presented brilliantly and featured a lot of practical ideas from their book (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2013) which I ended up going and placing an order for since I was so impressed. The next session I attended was by Yuzo Kimura who talked about teacher motivation and self. He used retrodictive qualitative modelling in the form of an ethnographic narrative of one Chinese teacher of English. What he discovered when interviewing his subject that really struck me was that in his 7 year longitudinal study his participant talked about her “shame” in being an L2 Chinese teacher of English, even though this person was clearly fluent in English. This has confirms my own research findings (Pinner, 2014) and is the main impetus behind my advocating a more in-depth look at the concept of authenticity as it relates to the self and motivation. Kimura (2014) provides more detail about this in his chapter in The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning (Csizér & Magid, 2014) which I purchased from the Multilingual Matters stall at the conference. The next session I watched was by Julia You and Letty Chan about Imagery in the L2 Self. The looked at 164 participants and presented a mixed-methods study which showed how imaging the self is an essential part of the process of actualizing your ideal and ought to selves, and that in the process of imaging one’s self affects not only the self but also the process of learning.
The final plenary of the day, and for me the most exciting one, was Ema Ushioda. Ema was, as usual, an engaging and well-laid out speaker. Her talk focused mainly on research methods, and of course she was fundamentally advocating the need to consider person’s in context and see our research subjects not as subjects at all but as people, as individuals (Ushioda, 2009, 2011). But she was certainly aware of the impracticalities that doing such rich and in-depth research would entail, and I suppose the key word for her presentation would have to be “however”, since almost every methodology she looked at had its flaws. I was very intrigued when she mentioned something she called ‘trace data’, and I thought “that’s something I want to be doing”. I was very relieved when she came to the end of her talk and outlined the various and multi-modal methods of collecting such data and I found that I was already doing most of them for my PhD research, even the cool sounding trace data! It shouldn’t have been so surprising really, since she is my supervisor, but I was still happy to know I was on the right track, especially with my first panel meeting looming in the nearby future (the main reason I was in England). Trace data, for those interested, is data which is collected mainly through online interactions, and is an “unobtrusive approach to collecting naturally occurring data”. One example would be the interactions of a user on social networking sites or discussion forums, since these leave time-stamps and other identifying marks which makes them perfect as data snapshots, they are also naturally occurring and unobtrusive (provided you have the permission of the participants). The crux of Ema’s argument was the distinction between etic and emic research, and she mentioned Adrian Holliday’s term about the “small culture of a classroom” (Holliday, 1999), and her talk made me want to dive back into my classroom and carry on with my research, as well as filling me with confidence about my panel (which was a bit tough as it turned out!). Much of the methods she drew on came from Rodriguez and Ryave (2002), and when I pointed out to Ema that her recent work seems to be mainly dealing with research methodology these days and I wondered if she planned to write a methodology book, I was a little disappointed when she laughed the idea off. A gap in the market?
On the final day of the conference, Peter Macintyre’s final plenary was great as well, in which he provided insights into doing mixed-methods research, but one which focuses on events and context. He used the fascinating example of the Ryōan-ji garden in Kyoto, which contains 15 rocks but wherever you stand in the garden you can only ever see as 14, you can never see all 15 rocks at once. He used this to highlight the importance of perspective when doing research into motivation. He advocated an idiodynamic approach to motivational research, and he even has special software which can help. The method basically looks at general trends but also looks at outliers, and it does not discard the differences from the norm. That way, results are more about the whole picture rather than the generalisation. This was an excellent lead-in into the talk I attended straight after by Damon Brewster and Kay Irie, in which they presented a long longitudinal study spanning over 5 years – the entire length of their subject’s undergraduate degrees. It was an honour to be present at the talk in which they both finally seemed to gain a sense of closure on what had been a long and clearly invigorating topic in which they had used narrative case-studies to examine persons-in-context. Rather than summarise, I would simply mention two excellent papers of theirs in which they discuss some aspects of this research (Irie & Brewster, 2013, 2014). Next I watched fellow PhD student (also under Ema Ushioda’s tutelage) Gosia Sky in her enlightening discussion of Dynamics and Complexity in Teacher Motivation. Her research revealed some fascinating insights (which also corroborate my own research on the authenticity continuum) about how L2 teachers of English perceive themselves with regard to native-speakerism. Gosia said that she was not even looking for this type of finding, but that it arose naturally from interview participants as her line of inquiry developed. We were very interested to meet each other at the conference and excited to learn that much of our research interests converge.
Finally, there was the Panel which featured Martin Lamb, Judit Kormos, Zoltán Dörnyei, Peter MacIntyre (who could only attend the last part), Kim Noels and Ema Ushioda. It was chaired by Alastair Henry and for me this was the climax that the conference had been building towards. Each panel member gave an individual address and then took questions from the audience in which they chipped in as and when they felt moved to do so. I could easily write another 3,000 words on all that was said here, but below is a chart which summarises basically what each speaker said that stood out most for me:
Exciting new paradigm shift. What is the Ideal Future Self of Motivational Research? What is the feared future self of Motivational Research? Let’s look forward but not loose what came before.
Psychologists often study themselves. “Research is MeSearch”. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater (like ZD was saying)
Focus on the “applied” part of applied linguistics. What is the relevance to practice? How can Complexity theory help us understand rather than leading to an even greater level of abstraction? From an ethical point of view, we have a responsibility to make it practical. (note: Ema was the only panel member to receive a round of applause after her address)
Shared a very vivid view of the future by drawing a humorous but also serious sketch of the 5th International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and SLA which would be held in 2025 in a sunnier place than Nottingham. He said that 80% of the research would still be from tertiary settings, but he hoped that at least 20% would be from schools and other contexts, reflecting a more balanced array of context for research.
Asked the audience/presenters who had presented about participants with disabilities or from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. She, like Martin Lamb, hoped that these people would have more of a representation in future research. She echoed Ema’s comments about our responsibility as researchers.
Overall it was interesting to note that not all the scholars were yet willing to openly side with Complex Dynamics System Theory, there were many cautious voices. I thought this was a good thing, and again this represented the high level of criticality which demonstrated that Complexity, despite being a current buzz word, represents a true paradigm shift rather than just being another bandwagon that people wish to jump on. During the discussion Dianne Larsen-Freeman was asked to interject and she explained that for her, Complexity Theory is about teaching and that it makes sense to her as a teacher. For me, this again was essential and this is why I am very glad that I attended the conference and glad that I went to the effort to write up my notes in this post.
I would recommend for anyone interested in the conference or its theme to buy a copy of the book Motivation Dynamics in Language Learning around which the conference was themed and to look further into the various authors I have mentioned here. Overall I think that Complexity Theory has a lot to offer the field of Applied Linguistics, and motivation in particular. I would like to thank all the organisers (especially Christine Muir for her help with my mix ups and Laura and Tommi at Multilingual Matters) and speakers of the conference for a very enlightening and stimulating conference and I hope that there will be a follow-up very soon!
Csizér, K., & Magid, M. (Eds.). (2014). The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
De Bot, K. (2008). Introduction: Second language development as a dynamic process. The Modern Language Journal, 92(2), 166-178.
Dörnyei, Z., MacIntyre, P., & Henry, A. (Eds.). (2015). Motivational dynamics in language learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Gregersen, T., & MacIntyre, P. (2013). Capitalizing on language learners’ individuality: From premise to practice (Vol. 72). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Holliday, A. (1999). Small cultures. Applied Linguistics, 20(2), 237-264.
Irie, K., & Brewster, D. R. (2013). One Curriculum, Three Stories: Ideal L2 Self and L2-Self-Discrepancy Profiles. In M. T. Apple, D. Da Silva & T. Fellner (Eds.), Language Learning Motivation in Japan (pp. 110 – 128). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Irie, K., & Brewster, D. R. (2014). Investing in Experiential Capital: Self-efficacy, Imagination and Development of Ideal L2 Selves. In K. Csizér & M. Magid (Eds.), The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning (Vol. 79, pp. 171-188). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Kimura, Y. (2014). ELT motivation from a complex dynamic systems theory perspective: a longitudinal case study of L2 teacher motivation in Beijing. In K. Csizér & M. Magid (Eds.), The Impact of Self-Concept on Language Learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Chaos/complexity science and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 18(2), 141-165.
Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008a). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008b). Research methodology on language development from a complex systems perspective. The Modern Language Journal, 200-213.
Martínez-Fernández, A. (2008). Revisiting the involvement load hypothesis: Awareness, type of task and type of item. Paper presented at the Selected proceedings of the 2007 second language research forum, Somerville, MA.
Pinner, R. S. (2014). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices. English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1), 9 – 17.
Rodriguez, N. M., & Ryave, A. (2002). Systematic self-observation: a method for researching the hidden and elusive features of everyday social life (Vol. 49). London: Sage.
Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
This is a quick post, composed between parallel sessions, about the BAAL 2014 conference which I am currently attending. Unlike many of the attendees I am no good at Live Tweeting since I am already multitasking in my own life so much that if I tried I would lose focus on what’s actually happening. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to post something as the conference is taking place, mainly regarding my own presentation which I delivered yesterday (4th September) entitled Authenticity in a Global Context: Learning, Working and Communicating with L2 teachers of English. I have uploaded the slides from the presentation, as well as the audio below for anyone who missed the session or (very unlikely) for anyone who was so entertained that they simply must listen to it again!
[below is the audio file]
When I return to Japan and get back to work I will be posting a full review of both the Nottingham 2014 International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and the BAAL 2014 conference. Until then please enjoy the rest of the conference, whether you are here in person or digitally auditing and come back soon for more updates.
I am delighted to announce that my piece for English Today entitled “The Authenticity Continuum– towards a definition incorporating international voices” has been accepted and is scheduled for publication sometime in the near future. The piece expands upon the need for a less culturally embedded view of authenticity in language teaching. I am very pleased to have been accepted in such a prestigious journal.
I sit here on the Shinkansen home to Tokyo, the obligatory post-conference beer and bento box at hand. I have just attended the EFL Teacher Journeysconference in Kyoto, part of the Teacher Development SIG at JALT, and it was easily one of the best conferences I’ve been to in a long while. I think it is a sort of hidden gem among language teaching conferences in Japan. I’m very glad I discovered it. I didn’t know anyone there, but I met so many people who I feel will likely become firm friends. Thanks to the community spirit of like-minded individuals, of people telling their stories and listening to the stories of others, this was a fascinating and engaging conference. I was excited about the EFL Teacher Journeys conference, it seemed to be a perfect fit for me because it prioritizes narratives, qualitative inquiry and the issues of identity and development that regularly preoccupy us as teachers. I was delighted when my proposal was accepted. It makes me very happy to report that this conference was fantastic and truly delivered even more than I had hoped for. Although I didn’t know anybody, I was instantly made to feel welcome and introduced around. I even met people who were familiar names that I was citing in my PhD thesis, or people whose work I had read in journals and book chapters. The first talk started at 9:30, I found it hard to choose each of the individual presentations because they all sounded interesting, but I opted first to watch a talk by Sachie Banks. Her talk had a similar theme to mine I thought, being a professional narrative of her development as a teacher, so I wanted to see her talk in order to gauge just how much of a “story” I could put into my “story” presentation. Her talk was exactly as I had hoped, a very personal and contextualized journey from her life as a teacher of Japanese and English, her educational and teaching background detailing her personal and professional growth. It was interesting and although deeply personal and centered around her individual journey, it struck a lot of chords with me and other members of the audience, as evidenced by the lively and interesting discussion that took place after her story was over. People asked other questions or shared their own experiences, which chimed with or added support to hers. Next it was my presentation. I was quite amazed with the large turnout, I had an almost full house with maybe 20 or 25 participants (the conference is nice and small with maybe 70 or 80 people in all). I hadn’t really scripted or prepared what I would say beyond my very visual slides (inspired by the Beyond Bullet Points Approach), and I found myself talking about things which I hadn’t expected I would talk about, being very open because of the receptive audience. And in telling my story, I learned things about myself. I am new to narrative inquiry so this is still a very refreshing experience for me. I especially enjoyed talking about my time at Nova and how I managed to get through all that and come to see language teaching as a life-long career. Many friendly and supportive people congratulated me on my talk afterwards. Slide show here
Next was the first featured speaker or plenary talk by Keiko Sakui. Her talk was amazing, I would even say brilliant. She had it all, in perfect balance. She had up to date citations but she also knew her history, she had personal details and a story which connected with others in the audience. Another big theme of hers was Social Capital. The main thing was lots and lots of time for discussion with fellow participants. This was very much a theme which characterized the whole conference. She also showed some great videos, which I will be using in my own classes next week. One of these which particularly stuck in my head was the way people had been encouraged to take the stairs rather than the escalator using gamification:
This is really relevant to me as it combines education with social issues. I told Keiko later on that her presentation had been very influential in making me more optimistic about the future, since generally I find myself quite pessimistic about people’s ability to adapt to the inevitable power-down we will be faced with in a post-carbon society (don’t get me started! I write about this under a nom-de-plume because it is rather emotive for me, but see here for information* BTW, Heinberg is not my nom-de-plume). As you can see, some of the most eye opening or enlightening topics Keiko Sakui picked up on were Fun in Learning and Gamification. I had, in truth, not thought gamification was something I would be interested in, seeing it as a fad, but what Keiko Sakui did was to put it in context for me and make it seem like something I could genuinely benefit from both as a teacher and as a learner. In her talk she also cited Nicole Lazzaro’s classification of 4 types of fun – Easy Fun, Hard Fun, People Fun and Serious Fun. She also talked about motivational inertia; doing things enough that they become habit and rewarding in themselves, which Bill Sykes who was sitting close to me pointed out was connected to Flow Theory. Bill wrote about Flow in the ELTJ and I also mentioned it in my talk.
After the first plenary, a big group of us went to find lunch, but we all split up when it came time to buy food and not all of us were able to regroup in the labyrinthine underground networks of shops near Kyoto station. I thought it was interesting how we were all very aware of each other’s individual preferences and yet there was very much a desire to stay together as a group as well. Lunch was also a great learning experience for me, and I met interesting people and talked with them, doing some networking which in itself was also a big feature of this (and all) conferences. After lunch I went to see Ethan Taomae who gave a great speech about a piece of research he had done by collecting reflective papers from colleagues who were all teaching a new discussion course. He found that teacher’s beliefs were influenced greatly by contextual factors, and his presentation gave further weight to reflexive practice in general and was eagerly discussed by all the participants, although I think Ethan got kind of bombarded at the end of his talk with questions! I should also mention Michael Hollenback, whose talk was about embracing English as a Lingua Franca. I really wanted to see that, but I did at least get the chance to chat with Michael later. Afterwards I watched Tanja McCandie who talked about how teachers are influenced by those who taught them, and how teachers’ experience as students shapes how they form their identity as teachers. The second featured speaker was by Bill Snyder, whose article all about Flow I found very interesting and am citing in my PhD. His talk was about the importance of informal learning, and he cited the work of Jimmy Cross who says that 80% of learning at work takes place in informal contexts. He stressed the importance of communities of practice and explained that learning is not about a producer and consumer model, but about interactions between practitioners. He also talked of Social Capital and encouraged us to reflect on our own experience at the conference. I remember that at one point he said that “we actually don’t remember that much” which made us engage with what we might remember from the conference in a week, a year or even ten years. For me, the thing that I would remember was the people and the informal community building which is so essential to any profession, but perhaps especially teaching and certainly language teaching which is all about that rare and essential type of communication that takes place between people with different cultural backgrounds. He said “teaching is grounded in uncertainty” which is something I felt I could relate to, especially since I also mentioned Chaos/Complexity Theory in my talk even though I was still getting to grips with it on the train down to Kyoto. Tired and keen to return home, I almost didn’t stay for the last session, but the topic of Cameron Romney’s talk was irresistible, and I was not disappointed with his very quirky and perfect-as-the-last-of-the-day style talk about using Japanese ( the student’s L1, his L2) in his class. Like all the talks, he framed this as a narrative into his own teacher development, but he made each of his slides in the theme of an internet meme, a format that was both funny and strangely effective in making mini-summaries of the most salient Meta observations from his story. I felt bad that I didn’t have an internet connection since he was quite a high-tech person. Cameron had been live-tweeting my talk and I wanted to return the favour. Sadly, he was a bit ahead of us all there, but we all sat and listening attentively, laughing regularly as he told about how he had always been told not to use Japanese in his class, but as his Japanese improved he found it essential. He had conducted some action research and found that his use of Japanese in the class was vital in forming connections with the students and that they used English with him more when they knew he spoke Japanese, whereas they used English less even when he had enforced an English only policy. For me this rang a lot of bells with my own experience, which I had written about in one of my first articles. By acknowledging students as Bilinguals rather than people who should leave behind their L1 (and with it their cultural identity) when they attempt to learn an L2, I was able to value the students more and see them as people with their own Cultural Capital. I also like to find common ground with my students, and when they know I too am a language learner, this is a vital part of the rapport I try to build with my students. Since language is central to what we teach, it seems absurd to leave L1 out of the class. Overall the conference was unforgettably enlightening, and made me really respect the context in which I teach. As an EFL teacher in Japan I am extremely lucky that there is such a thriving community of practice here, and I think I have finally found my people at the EFL Teacher Journey conference. I would like to thank Mike Ellis, Thomas Amundrud, Catherine Kinoshita and Mizuka Tsukamoto as well as Dominic Edsall and Martin Hawkes who made up the conference team. Particularly Mike for his kind and encouraging words to me at the start of the day. I’d also like to thank those people who came to my talk, and those whose talks I watched. Sharing my story was almost as much fun as listening to other people’s, but the whole experience of sharing and reflecting on our teaching journeys and feeling that I could join a thriving and vibrant community of practice in Japan made me very happy and I will certainly be going again next year and joining the TD SIG as well. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step, as Lau Tzu (Laozi) says, but I would be happy to hear each step described in detail by colleagues as long as they were able to contextualize and personalize them as well as we did at the EFL Teacher Journeys conference.
My most recent publication is in the ELTED Journal, all about Authenticity in English Language Teaching.
This paper outlines a workshop which I conducted in Tokyo and Osaka in 2013 as part of an INSET program accredited by the Japanese Ministry of Sports, Education and Culture (MEXT). The course, entitled Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students, aims to give teachers a better understanding of the concept of authenticity as it realigns itself with the way English is used and taught around the world for international communication. My aims as the teacher/researcher were to understand more about how L2 teachers of English perceive the notion of authenticity and how this concept could be broadened to try and empower L2 users of English by helping them to start reconceptualising authenticity from a more international perspective. This paper first looks at some of the issues that arise when attempting to define authenticity and then, building on the distinctions laid out by Widdowson (1978), that authenticity is not something absolute but relative to learners, I suggest that authenticity might be best viewed as a continuum which incorporates international voices and moves away from culturally embedded definitions. With that in place I will describe the contents of the workshop, followed by an explanation of the data I collected as part of the workshop and how analysis showed that participants reported the notion of an authenticity continuum to be empowering and even increased their motivation to try and make their own classes more authentic.
In order to develop a more inclusive concept of authenticity, rather than trying for a single definition, authenticity should perhaps be seen as a continuum with various dimensions.
I have been busy lately. So busy in fact that I still have not written up my report of the lecture I went to see by Jenny Jenkins at Waseda University’s 3rd English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) International Workshop. Coming soon
One of the reasons I have been busy it that I recently completed a proposal for a large writing project which has been accepted to my great astonishment and delight. Again, I will post up more details at a later date when things are confirmed. I have also been sending proposals to international conferences and conferences here in Japan and I just wanted to share some of those here since I am hoping to meet the rare and wonderful people who read this blog and thank them for their support.
I am very excited to announce that I will be attending this year’s EFL Teachers Journey’s Conference which will be held in the historical city of Kyoto on June 22nd. My presentation will be in the category of Narratives of teacher development and change in which I will talk about my professional development and how this has shaped and evolved with my beliefs about teaching and learning. I am especially excited about this conference because here in Japan I feel sometimes out of touch with the wider EFL community, and this conference seems to share some of my passions for narratives and research which focuses on individuals and their beliefs. You can view the abstract here.
I will also be presenting at the British Association of Applied Linguists (BAAL) Conference in September. This conference is being hosted by the University of Warwick where I am a PhD student at the moment, so I am glad to be able to participate and present. My piece will be about a research project I conducted last year. I took the data from a teacher training session which is part of the Ministry of Education’s teaching licence renewal. I worked with Japanese high school teachers in Osaka and Tokyo and the research focuses on reactions to authenticity and an attempt to move away from the dominant culture of native speakerism by shifting the focus of authenticity into the realm of English as an international language. This will also be a published article which will come out later in the year:
Pinner, R. S. (forthcoming). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1).
Finally, I will also be presenting at the JALT conference in Tsukuba in November. This presentation will be similar to the one I’m giving at BAAL – I’m too busy to do three completely different presentations. Having said that, I have already given two presentations this year which I failed to mention on my blog. I spoke at the fantastic LiberLit conference (click here for the full schedule) and I also participated as a speaker and panel member at the International CLIL Research Journal Symposium in April.
So, I’ve been busy. The PhD, the teaching and being a father is taking its toll on my hair colour and sanity, but at least I’m still passionate and enthusiastic about my work and my professional identity. If you have any comments please feel free to share and also, let me know if you will be attending any of these events or can recommend ones I am missing!
Recently, due to rather irritating circumstances and a fall-out with my registrar (123-reg) I have had to move my blog to a new domain. As they kept the name and that has now been bought by another company (sigh) I have had to migrate everything to a completely new domain and come up with a new name and a new image for my language learning consultancy and blog. Thus, Uniliterate was born.
Despite the rather frustrating origins, I had actually meant to move the site or to re-brand it anyway. Previously I had focused specifically on technology and language teaching, which is still a passion of mine. But whereas engnet-education was established as a consultancy and we sold VLE implementation and training, my own professional focus was moving away from this and into new areas of language education – mainly the issue of authenticity and Global Englishes, in particular content-based learning and content and language integrated learning (CLIL).
So, this site will continue the work I established as engnet-education, but with the re-branding comes a change of theme and focus. One of the primary reasons for me wanting to move away from a focus on the use of technology in language teaching was that, as I found during my MA research and as Graham Davies himself predicted, CALL and the use of computers is not so much a separate thing in education any more. It is becoming more and more common, and indeed many people, myself included, view it simply as a tool for learning. This is certainly still interesting and still valid, but my approach is now to view technology in the language classroom as part of another field of enquiry, rather than looking at it in isolation as I was before.
So, once again I would like to thank my clients and readers and to ask you for your patience while I sort out this transition and please stay posted for more exciting developments and hopefully an improved flow of content and discussions.
This interview took place between Richard Pinner and Philip Benson via Skype. Philip Benson is a leading researcher and expert on Language Learner Autonomy. He is the author of several books on Autonomy and currently teaches at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
RP: First, the new edition of your book. Is there anything new in there that wasn’t in the first edition?
PB: Yes, there’s a lot more. It says on the description of the new edition that there are over 300 references added. The first edition came out in 2001, and at the time I tried to do all I could to gather the most important aspects in the field from the last 30 years. But in the last ten years or so, a lot of new work has been done and the amount of research has almost doubled, all in just the last ten or so years. There have been a lot of important developments since the first edition, so the second edition brings everything up to date. There’s also a section on teacher autonomy there too, which wasn’t in the first edition. Also, in the first edition there was already a section on technology, but that’s been significantly expanded now. Obviously the technology then and now has developed a lot, particularly in things like communication and the widespread use of the internet.
RP: So well worth purchasing, even if you have the first edition. I’ll have to go on amazon, because I’m still on the old edition. When I saw you speaking at Temple University, Japan, which was part of the Distinguished Lecturer series that they offer, you dedicated a fairly significant amount of time to your definition of autonomy. Is that also something that is new in the second edition?
PB: No, actually that is work which mostly carries across from the first edition. What I’ve been doing recently is investigating the idea of capacities for control, but that definition hasn’t changed since 2001. I don’t think it’s useful to add more definitions and to keep trying to come up with new ones. Obviously, what we need to do is to drill down into it, rather than widening the definition beyond something that’s useful. I think if we are going to get anywhere then we all need to be talking about the same thing and using terms in the same way. In my definition, I refer to autonomy as “a capacity to control learning” and I’ve just been trying to further define each of those terms.
RP: So, how did you first get involved in working with autonomy?
PB: Well initially it was through technology and my involvement with CALL. Basically, in one of the places I was working they decided to set up a self-access centre, and because I was into computers they asked me if I wanted to be involved in that. When I first started working in autonomy, I suppose I was initially approaching it from a self-access viewpoint, but of course the more I got into autonomy, you know it developed and there is a lot more going on. I have a background in CALL. Back in the 80s and 90s CALL was about creating programs or applications for language learning. But now, CALL also features an aspect of globalisation –of how people are using technology socially now. Technology has really advanced, so, it used to be that you would look at a program and think “how can I make this better for language learning?” and you would develop the software. But now, you can’t possibly create anything as good as what there already is. You couldn’t create anything better, than, for example YouTube.
RP: So you initially got into autonomy as a natural progression of your interest in technology’s use in language learning? That’s really interesting because that’s quite similar to me in fact, I initially started this blog to be all about CALL and technology, but now I’m more interested in technology and motivation, particularly authenticity and motivation, which I suppose YouTube is a good example of authenticity. In your lecture, you mentioned that there are of course strong conceptual links between autonomy and motivation…
RP: … and you said that when students ask you, or you know, say that they would like to write their thesis on the link between autonomy and motivation, you usually advise them not to do it!
PB: Yes, well. I think the thing with autonomy and motivation is that, as you say, there are some strong conceptual links there and in fact there is often an overlap in the terminology. I mean motivation, it was really Deci and Ryan, when they proposed Self Determination Theory, autonomy is a component of that. What they argue is that motivation is dependent on three things; autonomy, competence and relatedness. They talk about autonomy as a kind of freedom. In my breakdown of the term “capacity” in the definition of autonomy, I talk about freedom as being part of the capacity for control, and that’s obviously an aspect of autonomy but I think they are slicing the cake differently.
RP: So when they talk about autonomy in Self-Determination Theory they are talking about the freedom to be able to choose what they learn rather than being forced, say, by having to do a compulsory course?
PB: Yes, I think so. So I think that we are in agreement there, but for me autonomy is about more than just freedom as well, there are other things that we look at when we study autonomy.
RP: Right, I see. I’ll have to bear that in mind when I work on my PhD because my tutor is Ema Ushioda, and she was primarily concerned with autonomy and then she got into motivation research through that.
PB: Yeah. Well, as I say there are strong links between the two, but as I said in the lecture at Temple, there is a widespread problem in Applied Linguists in terms of defining abstract concepts, such as autonomy and motivation.
RP: And I’m foolishly trying to tie up three of them in my research. Sounds like I need to do a lot more reading. Do you have any new books coming out in the near future?
PB: Yes, actually, a few things coming out soon. At the moment I am working with sociocultural theory. There is a new book coming out, which is one I’ve co-edited with Lucy Cooker. It’s called The Applied Linguistic Individual: Sociocultural Approaches to Identity, Agency and Autonomy and it’s part of the Studies in Applied Linguistics series published by Equinox. It’s going to feature chapters from experts in the field of sociocultural theory, such as people like James Lantolf and Martin Lamb. One of the criticisms some people have levelled against autonomy research was that it was too individualistic. This book aims to bring the importance of the social context of autonomous learning out. It’s an examination of how individuality is conceptualised. So that’s been really interesting to work on and the book is coming out at the start of next year. The other book that I’m doing is called Narrative Inquiry in Language Teaching and Learning Research which is published by Routledge in the Second Language Acquisition Research Series. I’ve co-authored this book with Gary Barkhuizen, and Alice Chik.
RP: So you’ve been very busy recently I take it?
PB: Always busy. But in terms of current research, right now I’ve been looking at a lot of what happens outside of the classroom. Again, going back to YouTube, there are thousands of people out there it seems who are using YouTube for language learning. If you look at the comments below the videos, it seems very clear that a lot of these people are practising their second language skills, and there is evidence of them using YouTube for development. Now, there are lots of people doing what we call “translanguaging” which is things such as a Chinese star speaking English in an interview, or an American singing a song in Chinese in Taiwan. And if you look at the comments on there, there is a lot of evidence of language learning taking place. There are people commenting about accent or pronunciation, sometimes aspects of grammar. This is a project that I am currently working on at the moment.
RP: That sounds very interesting. Well, thank you so much for your time and for the very interesting conversation.
This post is all about resources which are invaluable to language teachers – authentic materials. There are so many authentic resources which can be adapted for use in the classroom that it may seem daunting to know where to start, or what the best way to go about altering the materials is to get them class-room ready. In this post I will introduce a few examples and tools which make this job easy, and some general ideas about how to reduce the work on the teacher without decreasing the personalisation factor of adapting materials for the classroom.
If you look at any good coursebook or set of learning materials, you will notice that they have a strong structure with clearly labelled sections which the students and teachers can both identify straight away. Although the content in these sections changes from unit to unit, the section are laid out in the same way and offer a similar range of tasks and activities. This has obvious benefits, especially when you are designing teaching materials which you will use in the future for other classes or even for other teachers to use. This principle of having a strong and clear structure should also help you to speed up the adapting process. A good example of adapted authentic materials are the ones provided by onestopenglish.com based on articles from the British newspaper The Guardian. Below is an example:
Straight away you can see that there are clear sections and each one contains a specific task. Also note that from week to week these activities vary only in content, for the most part the type of tasks change very little. This makes the writing process a lot easier, it means you know already what will go in your worksheet and the same is true for your students. Of course, variation of task types is a good thing, but this can be achieved with different worksheets and lessons, if you are writing a series of such materials it is best to have a strong structure, but also don’t be too rigid about it as this will make the worksheets become stale.
Research such as that into the Involvement Load Hypothesis or Cognitive Load Theory have suggested that by increasing the difficulty and required ‘brain power’ used by a task helps with remembering the content and can lead to longer-term retention of the target language. Elaboration Theory utilises this by making tasks in a learning interaction or worksheet become gradually more complicated, thus increasing the chances that the learner will acquire the target language. These theories are easy to incorporate into your worksheets.
No matter how good your tasks and activities, they are only ever as good as the source material. When choosing the source material which you are going to adapt, there are a few things you might want to consider before making the final selection. These are authenticity, relevance, curriculum fit and potential for further learning. Peacock (1997) found that authentic materials were more motivating for students, even lower level students, than unauthentic materials. However, there have been a lot of debates over what constitutes as authentic and what doesn’t. Henry Widdowson (1990) makes the distinction between ‘authentic’ materials and ‘genuine’ materials. Here, authentic materials are originally written for non-learners of the language (proficient speakers or L1) and used in the same way in the class with the learners. Genuine materials have been adapted from authentic materials in order to emphasise linguistic components for learning. Both of these are good things, but obviously when choosing the source material we must also consider the difficulty it may pose to our learners. There are a number of ways of doing this, but one quick and easy way is to use the Flesch–Kincaid readability test, which is built into Microsoft Word and can be used on any text you have in there. A score will be produced which you can use to roughly guess how hard the text will be, based on a number of criteria derived from corpus linguistics, such as word frequency, length, etc.
I will expand on this idea further in a later article, but please feel free to contact or use the comments below to discuss.
For me, the main thing I look for when choosing materials to adapt for class is whether they interest me or not. If they do, I am more likely to be able to get my class interested. At the end of the day, you may have to use a number of objective criteria to fine tune your choices, but the main decision will be subjective based on your own teaching preferences and this is a good thing. Teaching and adapting materials for you class are highly personal, and if they are not the lessons you do will fail because of this.
Widdowson, H. (1990), Aspects of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Peacock, M. (1997) The Effect of Authentic Materials on the Motivation of EFL Learners in English Language Teaching Journal 51