I have just attended the Anaheim open TESOL seminar, and I am on the way back, typing madly into my tablet so as to get as much transcribed as possible before I get home because as soon as I get back I have to slip into a yukatta and enjoy the hanabi summer fireworks festival with my family tonight.
The conference at Showa Women’s University boasted some big names in the TEFL world, not the least of which was Professor Rod Ellis, along with Hayo Reinders and David Nunan. Sadly for health reasons, David Nunan was not able to attend, and so he was replaced by Anaheim colleague Craig Lambert.
The first speech was from Showa Women’s University professor and long ago PhD student of Rod Ellis, Dr Tomoko Kaneko. She discussed the globalisation programs underway in Japan and in particular highlighted Showa Women’s University’s program which actively encourages study abroad. She talked about the decrease in Japanese students studying abroad, and explained how Showa Women’s University had been able to secure a grant from MEXT to support globalisation in education, called the Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development. MEXT explains:
The Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development is a funding project that aims to overcome the Japanese younger generation’s “inward tendency” and to foster human resources who can positively meet the challenges and succeed in the global field, as the basis for improving Japan’ s global competitiveness and enhancing the ties between nations. Efforts to promote the internalization of university education in Japan will be given strong, priority support.
What struck me was how excellent the exchange programs offered by Showa Women’s University seemed, and I was surprised to learn that Showa Women’s University has a campus in Boston, established in 1988, where students can go and live for various lengths depending on their programs. Whilst in Boston the students do various activities to help the community such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting old people’s homes and so on. However, I couldn’t help noticing that much of the globalisation attempts were based around what I would call a culturalist globalisation fallacy. For example part of MEXT’s imposed goals for the program were to increase TOEIC scores by a certain amount. This seemed to be part of the conditions for receiving the additional MEXT funding under the Global Human Resources project. Also the exchange programs required a certain TOEIC score. Although Dr Kaneko was able to demonstrate increases in student TOEIC scores and she did point out that this was only one kind of measure, I think that to acquaint TOIEC with globalisation is to miss the point a little. If this is part of MEXT’s imposed measures I feel it to be rather flawed, since TOEIC is not a particulry good measure of English ability, let alone a measure of Globalisation! At the end Dr Kaneko asked if we had any comments about how to motivate the demotivated students and I wanted to reply that perhaps reducing the emphasis on TOEIC would help. To get the rise in TOEIC obviously the university would have to teach compulsory TOEIC courses. If this is MEXT’s requirements for TOIEC, I feel that they have fundamentally misunderstood the idea of globalisation. Also, although Showa has programs with other international universities in countries such as Poland, much of the emphasis was on the Boston satellite exchanges. Boston is in the USA, and again for me this does not reflect globalisation, but just internationalisation. I think there is a difference here, and this is linked to what Yamagami and Tollefson (2011) observed in their examination of the media discourse in Japan around the use of the word globalisation. MEXT used to say kokusaika (internationalisation) but now globalisation has become the most favourable term. However, globalisation can be seen as a threat, so is often just paid lip service. Therefore I think that what really seemed to be happening was a rather watered-down version of globalisation; a native-speaker centric idea of globalisation and not a true representation of diversity that I associate with globalisation. This is not a criticism of Showa Women’s University or Dr Kaneko’s excellent speech, it is more a criticism of MEXT if in fact they are using TOEIC to quantify globalisation and use it as a gatekeeper for exchange programs (see also Jenkins, 2014 for further evidence of this). Another target (not met) was to increase the number of foreign faculty, which I took to mean native speakers as this is a common rhetoric in Japan. However, although it is easy to criticise a university’s attempts to be more international and more global by claiming them to be native-speakerist, I should point out that these efforts are well-meant and clearly taking a step in the right direction. I was very interested to see that as part of the program evaluation Showa Women’s University also administers a self-evaluation on globalisation, the rubric of which included cross-cultural communication, IT skills and critical thinking. This was a much better measure than TOEIC I thought. Overall, I was impressed with the programs Dr Kaneko outlined, despite my reservations about MEXT’s emphasis on TOEIC scores.
Next Dr Hayo Reinders came on and he was brilliant. Best speaker I’ve seen in a while, I really liked him and he was very charismatic. In a talk that rang bells with the EFL Teacher Journey’s Conference plenary speech by Bill Snyder about informal teacher development, he showed a picture of an iceberg and asked how much learning goes on in class and how much goes on outside of class. Dr Reinders said that very few formal studies have been done and we have an unclear picture. He talked about the problem of assessing learning and also the problem of research not reflecting learning, citing Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008, p. 131) who pointed out that research shows different abilities under different settings. He mentioned his forthcoming book with Philip Benson which attempts to understand learning beyond the classroom using as a continuum which includes Location, Formality, Pedagogy and Locus of control – see Benson and Reinders (2011) for earlier work on the subject. He added to this he complexity of intentional and incidental learning, and explained just how complex this issue was. Then he outlined seven areas for further research into this area, which he said had a ‘potentially powerful’ link if we as teachers can establish a connection between what we do in class to what the students do outside of class, i.e. in connection with their personal life and their different selves.
Dr Reinders cited a study he had done in New Zealand with Stella Cotterall (2001) on how much exchange students use English on study abroad programs. He cautioned the assumption that students who go on study abroad will use English all the time, in the study he cited the majority of learners reported that they only used the target language ‘sometimes’. It seems a common and rather reductive assumption in Japan that to get fluent you have to live abroad, which negatively impacts the work of language teachers in Japan and could lead to the fallacious belief that one can only get fluent by leaving the country, and also that learning in Japan will not help you achieve fluency. The final and most important of his seven research areas was on teachers promoting learning beyond the classroom, particularly what do teachers do to encourage learning beyond the classroom.
During the Q&A I asked Dr Reinders how the issue of authenticity relates to the two contexts he outlined (in the classroom and beyond the classroom). His answer was quick, and he basically gave a definition of authenticity using the words ‘relevance’, ‘personal’ and the idea that it ‘comes from themselves [learners]’. He clearly felt that learning beyond the classroom involved students engaging with authentic materials. He also mentioned that people used to complain learning a language was hard because they don’t have access to the TL, “of course that’s nonsense in 2014”. I liked that part very much.
The next speaker was Professor Rod Ellis, who spoke about individual differences. He explained that there are stable permanent differences and dynamic situated ones. Professor Ellis listed personality and language aptitude under the stable differences, but I found personality listed as a permanent trait to be rather problematic. Menezes (2013) explains that our image of self is constantly re-imagined, and several other studies also view self as a dynamic construct which adapts and evolves constantly (Mercer, 2011; Mercer & Williams, 2014).
He criticized several well-known handbooks for language teachers – Nunan (1991), Ur (1996) and Scrivener (2005) – for failing to adequately mention how to deal with individual differences in the classroom and how to incorporate them into teaching. He mentioned that Self-Access Centres were one good way, but he then mentioned that SACs rarely cater properly for individual differences in terms of the resoruces they provide, noting that Reinders (2012) had once referred to them as “walled gardens”. He then outlined three methods which teachers could employ which might help them to allow for individual differences. These were Individualization – allowing learners to work on tasks best suited to their learning style, Eclecticism – using a lot of different types of task and material, and finally Receptivity – characterised as “a state of mind that is open to experience” (Allwright & Bailey, 1991, p. 157). Ellis argued that, since each has its limitations Receptivity is probably the best option because it allows a degree of personalisation and can therefore lead to more motivating learning experiences. This connected with the idea of authenticity for me again, since my view of authenticity is that it is basically a process of personal and social validation, connecting with reality by making something relevant. Ellis then went on to talk further about motivation, criticising the common staff-room complaint that “my students are not motivated” as a lack of onus on the teacher. In his view, it is the teacher’s job to motivate students. Acknowledging individuality is an important part of the classroom learning and teaching process. He mentioned transportable identities (Richards, 2006; Zimmerman, 1998) and explained that students must be allowed to speak as themselves. This is exactly what Ema Ushioda calls for in her person in-context relational view of motivation (2009, 2011), and something that I find central to my beliefs about teaching and learning, a defining component of my view of authenticity.
During the Q&A, Jo Mynard of Kanda University of International Studies stood up to defend SACs and Professor Ellis acknowledged that he had already mentioned that Kanda had the best SAC he’d ever seen. Another participant asked about individual differences in the teacher (as oppose to the learner) and this was a very interesting point. Ellis mentioned the ‘chemistry’ that happens between learners and teachers and acknowledged that there had to be some kind of match between teachers’ beliefs and learners’ styles. This was identified as an important area for research.
The final speaker was Craig Lambert, who is based in Japan. He was interested in the concept of Engagement and cited several very interesting works on the subject. One of the most interesting of these was Maehr’s Theory of Personal Investment (1984) in which he implicates the importance of Meaningfulness, Investment and Performance as being essential factors in motivation. Lambert used these as justification for an approach to task design that prioritises learners being able to generate their own tasks through a process of personal engagement. I found this to be a very useful contribution to the discussions on motivation and personal involvement that had already surfaced earlier on in the talks by other speakers.
All in all it was a very engaging day of talks by some leading figures from Anaheim University’s Applied Linguistics programs. I was impressed and as I headed home to watch the fireworks with my family, there were already fireworks exploding in my head from the stimulating discussions of the Open TESOL seminars. Thanks to all those who made it so engaging, especially the organisers and presenters. I am particularly grateful to Mikio Iguchi for recognising me and saving me a seat and to Rob Lowe for telling me about the conference.
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