Category Archives: Other

Conversations with a purpose: Reflecting on interviewing in EFL research (IATEFL ReSIG Pre-Conference Event)

The IATEFL conference in Birmingham is coming up, and those of you who have an interest in classroom-based research may want to attend the Research SIG Pre-Conference Event, which will take place on Tuesday 12th April 2016 (10:00-17:00).

In the event, Dr Steve Mann (University of Warwick) will lead a workshop that aims to help participants understand how interviews might be used in EFL research projects, and to provide practical hands-on experience about various alternatives in interview-based research. Some of the questions that will be explored are the following:

  • Do you use interviews in your research?
  • What challenges have you faced planning for and managing interview interaction?
  • What different approaches are possible within EFL research interviews?
  • How many interviews do I need to undertake and do I have to transcribe them all?

Participants will have the opportunity to raise and discuss any issues they have regarding the use of interviews in their research projects. With Steve’s help, participants will work towards developing an interview approach. They will also produce a set of questions, which will then be used for a live interview with Graham Hall, the editor of ELT Journal.

If you are involved in a project that uses interviews, whether it’s in the context of a study programme or motivated by a wish to better understand your practice, I think this is well worth your time!


Featured Image: ‘Interview’ by eelco @ Flickr CC-BY-NC

Year in Review

It’s that time of the year again, when one takes stock of the previous 12 months. This year’s post is less introspective than the previous one, but here goes anyway…

As always, wordpress has helpfully provided an annual traffic report, according to which I this blog was visited 110,000 times in the past twelve months. This is, perhaps, a surprising number considering the lack of posting activity in the summer (because I was looking for a job), and in the last couple of months (because I found one).

A large number of visitors come to this blog for the statistics content, which I continue to find both bizarre and frustrating. Other, less popular and probably better posts, that were written this year include the following:

My rant about discriminatory hiring

The position taken here(…) is that the very concept of Native vs. Non-Native teachers should be irrelevant to teaching discourse, just as dichotomies between male and female teachers, or between attractive and plain-looking ones. To quote Adrian Holliday again, these labels “really have not always been there, and we really don’t need them”.

In January 2015, I came across an article where it was argued that there was nothing discriminatory about exclusively hiring native teachers of English. I immediately wrote a brief, and somewhat angry, response here. In the post, I outlined three reasons why such thinking is linguistically flawed and ethically problematic. Despite being written in some haste, the post turned out to be reasonably coherent, and to my surprise, it led to the largest number of views in a single day – a record that would last till the end of September, when I announced my new job.

Introduction to complexity

Readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in Complex Systems Theory, and I do on occasion blog about it. In spring 2015, I was involved in organising the Manchester Roundtable on Complex Systems Theory and ELT, an informal gathering of teachers and academics that aimed to exploring how Complexity can be used to bridge the perceived gap between theory and practice in language teaching. In anticipation of that event, I wrote a short primer on complexity, which you can find here. The plan to make this a series of five posts discussing different aspects of complexity and ELT didn’t quite materialise, partly because I didn’t feel confident enough in my ability to describe complexity in non-technical terms, but this introductory post is a reasonably good entry point into complexity.

Is there a talent for learning languages?

We should not assume, on the basis of our continuing research,(…) that there are individuals who are not capable of learning languages.

Many of the posts in this blog are inspired by conversations I have with friends who want to learn more about language and language learning. This post, on language learning aptitude, or the ability to learn languages effortlessly, is a good example of such a post. It was triggered by a long conversation with a good friend, over a bottle of good wine, during which we debated whether there is such a thing as a ‘talent’ for learning languages. In the post, which summarises the better parts of that conversation, I argue that there seems to be such a thing as ‘aptitude’, and I explain what it consists of; but I also point out that it is not the most important factor determining success.

Some thoughts on teaching and testing

Another example of a post inspired by an informal conversation, on Twitter this time, was the one where I discuss the relation between language learning and testing. In brief, I argue that the two are not always compatible, and look back at a critical incident from my language teaching days. In September 2015, when this post was written, I had made up my mind to leave Greece, and some of my frustration and resentment over my previous employment seems to have made its way into the post. Such imperfections aside, I think that the content of the post is useful, and can serve as one example of how we might, ever so briefly, use professional knowledge and our sense of integrity in the interest of our students.

Looking into predatory publishing

It seems unethical to make hiring and promotion decisions conditional on a publication model that creates unrealistic output expectations for honest researchers, and profit opportunities for unscrupulous publishers.

Predatory publishing, roughly defined, is the practice of separating researchers from their money, by publishing scholarly work in journals of dubious quality. Uneven levels of academic expertise, poor regulatory practices, and gullibility are important factors in explaining the rise of predatory publishing, but they may not be the only ones. In this post I discuss how academic advancement regulations in certain contexts (*cough*Greece*cough*) tend to encourage submission of mediocre papers to low-quality journals. Although neither this post nor a follow-up outlining alternatives were very widely read, I have included it in this list because I think it is a topic that warrants reflection and discussion

And more…

In addition to the above, I have used this blog to record events and milestones that were noteworthy to me in one way or another. One of these events was the Teaching English to Young Learners panel, which I co-organised, in IATEFL 2015. You can read more about the panel members in this post, and about our talks in this one. Another one was the workshop on practitioner-led research, which I co-presented in ELT Connect 2015. You can find our slides and a handy how-to guide for planning research projects here. Last but not least, in this post you can find a copy of a chapter that I co-authored with Juup Stelma, which was recently published in New Directions in Language Learning Psychology (Gkonou et al., 2016).

I guess that’s all for this year… As always, thanks for reading, and have a great New Year!


Featured Image: Andrea Parrish – Geyer @ Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

 

New publication: Intentionality & Complex Systems Theory

I am proud and happy to announce that Juup Stelma and I have just had a chapter published in New Directions in Language Learning Psychology, an edited collection put together by Christina Gkonou, Dietmar Tatzl and Sarah Mercer, and published by Springer.

In the chapter, we suggest that many activities in language teaching and learning might be easier to understand if we look into the forces that drive and sustain them. These forces, which we call intentionalities, are roughly akin to the ‘purposes’ of each activity, the reasons that make teachers and students behave together in particular ways. We also point out that teaching and learning is usually driven by several intentionalities, which are interwoven into each other. We suggest, therefore that it is useful to try to understand them through a complexity lens.

Juup and I support our theoretical argument by drawing on data from our doctoral theses. Juup describes how a group of learners in Norway got increasingly involved in a set of role-playing tasks, and engaged in increasingly more elaborate theatrics. This activity, he argues, was driven by a ‘performace intentionality’, and he discusses how it came into being, and how it eventually faltered. In my part of the chapter, I talk about how the teaching and learning activity in an evening language school in Greece was driven by what I call a ‘competition intentionality’, which emerged from the interaction with the state school system.

For those of you who find this kind of information useful, the full bibliographical reference for the chapter is:

Kostoulas, A. & Stelma, J. (2016). ‘Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory: A New Direction for Language Learning Psychology’. In Gkonou, C., Tatzl, D. and Mercer, S. (eds.). New Directions in Language Learning Psychology. Berlin: Springer.

Download Chapter

A copy of our chapter can be downloaded by clicking on the link above, and comments and feedback are always welcome!


Image Credit: adikos @ Flickr , CC-BY

No child is unwelcome here: ELT tutoring for refugee children

One of the less visible aspects of the refugee crisis is that the refugee children have their education disrupted. They often have difficulty enrolling in the formal education systems of their host countries, and even when they do, they usually need a lot of extra support.

To help provide some of the support needed, we at the University of Graz ELT Research and Methodology unit have set up a tutoring programme, in cooperation with Caritas. Our plan is to organise a series of tutoring sessions, starting at the 2016 Summer Semester, where refugee children, and other children with migrant backgrounds, can join and practice using English. These sessions will be supervised by staff and trainee teachers studying with us, who will first undergo a five-lecture course on Prejudice Conscious Education, organised by Caritas.

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If you are studying ELT in Graz, join us!

We are aware that this is, probably, not the most pressing need the refugee children are facing at the moment. But even so, I genuinely believe that it is a worthwhile endeavour, not just because of the difference it might make in the children’s lives, but also because a statement must be made that no child is unwelcome here.

Punctuation..?

I was delighted to receive, a few days ago, a copy of Punctuation..?, a short reference book published by User Design.

Unlike more cumbersome style guides, Punctuation..? is quite concise: it spans 35 A5-size pages. These contain 21 sections, focusing on different punctuation marks, such as ‘square brackets’ or ‘semi colon’. Each section describes the use of a punctuation mark, and there’s also discussion of common usage errors (e.g. the infamous its//it’s distinction), and occasional comparisons to subtle differences in the usage of other languages.

User_design_Books_Punctuation_p34_35On the whole, I found the booklet useful and easy to use. The descriptions in each section are accurate, written in simple language and complemented by amusing illustrations that can help to reinforce recall. Despite its small size, the book is reasonably comprehensive, and I found a lot of information that was new to me: for instance, do you know what a pilcrow or guillemets are?

To be clear, this is not a hefty volume, nor should it be compared against publications such as the Chicago Manual of Style. But to me, the simplicity of the booklet is its most appealing feature.  I think that it can be a useful resource for language learners, and I would definitely recommend it for self-study or a self-access centre.