ELT Associations

An Interview with Daniel Xerri

This interview first appeared on the March-April issue of the ELTA Serbia newsletter

By Vicky Papageorgiou

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Daniel Xerri is a Lecturer in TESOL at the University of Malta. He is a member of IATEFL’s Conference Committee and of TESOL International Association’s Research Professional Council. Between 2015 and 2017, he was the Joint Coordinator of the IATEFL Research SIG. He holds postgraduate degrees in English and Applied Linguistics, as well as a PhD in Education from the University of York. He is the author of many publications on different areas of education and TESOL. His most recent books are The Image in English Language Teaching (2017, ELT Council), and Teacher Involvement in High-stakes Language Testing (2018, Springer). Further details about his talks and publications can be found at: www.danielxerri.com

Vicky : Daniel, first of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to give this interview.

Daniel : Thanks so much for inviting me to be interviewed. I’m very happy to share my thoughts and work with your readers.

Vicky : You are a very active and creative person. How do you manage such multiple interests?

Daniel : I don’t sleep much and work most of the time. Joking aside, I think it’s all about doing things that I’m passionate about. I’m lucky enough to be able to find the time to work on the things I’m interested in. Writing is perhaps what I enjoy doing the most in my professional and personal life. So, I consider it natural to spend a lot of time every week working on new articles and books.

Vicky : I know that your interest fields are creativity, research, CPD, etc. The fact that one of your research fields is poetry I think is fascinating. Can you tell us about using poetry as interview stimulus material?

Daniel : In my research on creativity education, I’ve used poetry as a means of exploring the attitudes, beliefs and practices of teachers and students. This involved providing them with a reflexive poem that depicted a lesson scenario and asking them to comment on it. By discussing the poem, they revealed what they thought about creativity and the use of creative texts in the classroom. The poem acted as a stimulus for their thoughts and perspectives.

Vicky : I was reading another article of yours on ‘teacher versatility’ and creativity and  how much you value the openness that teachers should cultivate so that they allow their practices in the classroom to be influenced by disciplines that could be even totally unrelated to language teaching.  How do you think that teachers can accomplish this?

Daniel : Teachers are thinking beings and they have views on a myriad of things that might not be directly related to English language teaching. By tapping their different interests and by being open to external influences, they can enrich their teaching and enhance their students’ learning experience. The important thing is to be willing to make connections between elements and disciplines that might not seem to be explicitly connected. Language teaching is not a compartmentalized activity. It is something that can draw energy from other fields of activity. Being willing to enrich language lessons by means of one’s different interests is the first step to being more versatile as a teacher.

Vicky : Knowledge of the language or knowledge about the language? Which of these two is more important for a language teacher?

Daniel : I think they’re equally important and it would be mistaken to ignore either one. A fairly good level of language proficiency is necessary in order for a teacher to teach the target language but so is well-developed teacher language awareness. In fact, some argue that language awareness contributes to more effective teaching. Teachers – and by extension learners – benefit immensely from initiatives aimed at developing language proficiency, language awareness, together with knowledge of teaching methodology and other competences.

Vicky : There has been an increasing interest of English language teachers in research. What are the challenges of training teachers to do classroom research?

Daniel : One of the biggest challenges consists of the way research is conceptualized. Even though research can be a powerful form of professional development, the way some teachers think about research can act as an obstacle to them engaging with and in research. If teachers limit themselves to the conceptions of research foisted upon them by academia, then they are unlikely to see research as something that they could do in their own context.

Vicky : Can you talk to us about your plenary speech at our ELTA Serbia Conference?

Daniel : In my plenary, I plan to challenge traditional conceptions of research and demonstrate how teacher research is a democratic activity that belongs to all classroom practitioners. My talk is based on a project that investigates the views of academics, teacher trainers and teacher association leaders from around the world. The people who have contributed to this project share the view that research can be an empowering activity for teachers if they are enabled to see it as an integral part of their professional identity.

Vicky : Daniel, with already over 100 publications, a very active professional life, what are your plans for the future?

Daniel : My immediate plans are to complete two books that are being published later this year, and strive to meet the deadlines for different articles and chapters that I’m currently working on. All that is on top of refurbishing the 300-year-old house that I’ve just moved into!

Vicky : Thank you!

*****

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A day in the life of…… Interview with Maria- Araxi Sachpazian

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Maria-Araxi Sachpazian [BA education & RSA dip/tefl (hons)] is the owner of Input on Education (www.input.edu.gr), an e-consultancy firm that provides academic, business support and IT solutions to Foreign Language Schools. Maria has wide experience as a teacher, teacher trainer, educational management specialist and materials’ developer. She is also the current chairperson of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece.

(This interview first appeared in the ELTA Serbia newsletter March – April 2017 issue ELTA Serbia March – April 2017 )

Vicky: Dear Maria, thank you for your time and for agreeing to give this interview!

Maria: Thank you so much, Vicky. I am so honoured to be talking to the members of ELTA Serbia and to you.

Vicky: Maria, you are an extremely busy and successful teacher, businesswoman, presenter, manager. I can go on and on with the variety of your roles… Do you miss quiet days at all?

Maria: I am blushing now. Thank you. I am indeed busy and I do miss changes in the pace of my work but I feel that quiet days are a thing of the past. I don’t know if it’s simply me and my many priorities or if it’s Greece and its financial situation but I find it very hard to reject projects or to decline invitations to present, therefore I always end up with more that I had initially bargained for. I must say, though, that I believe this is the greatest gain for us, the generation that had to suffer from the Greek financial crisis during our most productive years. This crisis has shown us what we can accomplish and how much we can do. Personally, I wouldn’t have ventured to teach abroad nor would I have invested in my own company, though keeping it is far from easy.

Vicky: Can you then describe a typical day in your life?

Maria: My days vary depending on what I have to do. I am an early riser so I am up round 6:30-7:00 and it’s usually my priority to walk Brandy, my seven-year old beagle dog. I make a point of setting out my work programme and the things I need to work on before I go to bed the previous evening so after breakfast (or rather while I have breakfast) I hit the books. Planning and in general my pedagogic deliberation is my first priority, no matter what else I have planned for the day. If I have Input projects or meetings with clients I either plan ahead or wake up earlier. My days are full of phone calls, skype meetings and also a lot of writing but I like that a lot. After lunch time (which in Greece is round two) I start my teaching day which usually finishes round 10:30 in the evening. Then I either see friends or go home and plan my next day. Fortunately, I can concentrate everywhere so I feel blessed that I can work equally well in my office, in my classroom, in the living room or at an airport.

Vicky: You are also Chair of TESOL Macedonia-Thrace and this year you organized your first TESOL Conference. Can you tell us what you consider the biggest challenge of organizing big conferences?

Maria: This is an easy answer. Money. As I told the TESOL MTH members in the AGM this year, the resources of TESOL are changing. Publishers and exam boards are still eager to help but they cannot help in the way they used to some years ago. Nowadays, TAs have to prove their worth both to the members and to the stakeholders and the money that comes from membership is equally important as the money that comes from sponsorship. A second challenge, which is still closely related to the first one mentioned, is the fact that TESOL MTH does not employ any staff or have a physical office. This means that we have to do everything ourselves and sometimes this is difficult as we are all volunteers with jobs, families.  

Vicky: You are also the owner of INPUT on Education, a company that provides consultancy to language schools. How can small language schools take advantage of consultancy in such tight economic times?

Maria: Small schools were the very reason I was inspired to start Input on Education. While private schools and large Chains of Foreign Language Schools can afford to employ their own specialists, smaller schools cannot do so. The upshot of that is that owners end up playing all the roles and this means that sometimes they either get too isolated, and therefore easily scared and demotivated, or they cannot deal with certain aspects of their extremely complicated role. That’s why we have many FLS which do great work on an academic level but they have nobody to promote this and publicise it to the target audience. We also have the other example, of the school that produces a great flyer but has little substance below to support this. In this case, clients come and register but leave as soon as they realise that there is little connection between the flyer and the reality of the school. This is where IoE (Input on Education) comes in, with affordable, value-for-money, customized services we study the school and its people and suggest practical solutions.

Vicky: Recently, you gave a seminar on ‘Lesson Planning for Creative Teaching’ at City College in Thessaloniki. Can you tell us more about it? Also, allow me a second question, why does creativity in the classroom matter now more than ever?

Maria: First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Paschalia Patsala for suggesting me as a speaker and her colleagues for their help, support and warm welcome. I was very happy when this particular topic was chosen as I feel strongly about it.  Lesson planning is one of my favourite topics and I believe that it has been both misrepresented and misunderstood. As a student and an RSA candidate, I remember pouring over one single lesson plan for hours and thinking what that would be like if I had to plan for 3 or 4 lessons. This is the most common problem. The process of lesson planning and the pedagogical deliberation that goes with it, is first presented to students of TEFL as very meticulous and time-consuming one. I don’t mean that it is not or that experience does not make things a bit easier. What I have seen is that most novice teachers go from the ultra-detailed lesson plan to nothing at all. Some teachers go as far as to suggest that lesson planning is a luxury. For me, it is far from a luxury. It is a necessity and an absolutely essential part of teaching which is based on the teacher’s knowledge of the material, the students and their needs and the aims that need to be accomplished. The message I tried to put forward at City College was that it makes little difference if the lesson plan is written or not, if it’s typed or handwritten, if it’s on a post-it or a special notebook what makes the greatest difference is the teacher taking some quiet time to sit down and see how to arrange the steps and stages of the choreography so that the lesson can have fluidity, cohesion and the learners are engaged. Getting learners to understand the connection between what they do in class and its usage when using the language is part of this and it cannot be accomplished when teachers go mechanically from exercise to exercise without doing much to put their own finishing touch to the material. Having said that, I don’t want to think of teachers as over-dependent on their lesson plans to the point that they cannot replace a colleague or make the necessary changes if the existing lesson plan does not seem to work.

Vicky: What are your plans for the future?

Maria: I plan to go on teaching because I feel that no matter what other things we do in our field (training, blogging, material writing, consulting) once we stop teaching we gradually become irrelevant. I am also planning to work a bit more on webinars for Input on Education so as to make sessions more affordable for teachers everywhere and finally, it is part of my plans to write a short volume on consulting based on my articles in ELT NEWS.

Vicky: I wish you all the best and a lot of success in all your ventures. 

ELT Wikipedia Project

Today, I would like to present you a project I have started some time ago. The ELT Wikipedia Project.

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What is the ELT Wikipedia Project?

This project started shaping up when, already in the middle of another wikipedia project and while browsing through the website, I realised there was a lack of references especially about significant, prominent ELT people (authors, theorists, etc.) in wikipedia. Yet, I thought that there was room for more than ELT personalities. We could write about terms, associations and anything else relevant to the ELT world. Thinking that such a project would interest several people and not just me, I invited first people that I already knew  they would be interested in taking part in it. 

What does the project involve?

There are 3 main sections in the project :

  1. ELT personalities

  2. ELT terms

  3. English Teaching Associations

1st Section : ELT Personalities

The goal is to :

write short or longer articles about important ELT professionals, e.g. Penny Ur, Luke Meddings, Peter Medgyes, Jeremy Harmer, Ken Wilson, Barbara Hoskins, Nik Peachley, Nicky Hockly, Lindsay Clandfield, JJ Wilson, Rachael Roberts, Vicki Hollett, Chuck Sandy, Marjorie Rosenberg, etc. for WIKIPEDIA. For the time being, there is no reference on any of them except for a short reference on Scott Thornbury and one two more short references.

Section 2 : ELT terms

There are already several ELT terms mentioned in wikipedia, but there is need for more ELT terms to be included. Several terms already exist, but they need more references or need to be edited, or enriched.

Some others do not exist at all.

Section 3 : ELT Associations

Only IATEFL is listed briefly

Possible entries for it could be : ELTA Serbia, IATEFL-Hungary, TESOL GREECE, TESOL Macedonia Thrace, BELTA Belgium, TESL Toronto, SEETA teacher association, etc.

Who can be involved?

  • ELT teachers

  • ELT undergraduate or postgraduate students

  • Anyone related with ELT who is interested in our project and has, at least, ‘some’ writing experience.

How can you can be involved?

You can contact me

Or

Ask to join our facebook group :

https://www.facebook.com/groups/571344006316259/

In what way can you be involved?

Decide what you would like to write about. Check our list (the list can be found in our facebook group, or you can ask it from me) to see if another editor is already on it.

We will help you with the details on how to write a wikipedia article and we will make some suggestions about what should be included.

Also, more than one person can be involved in writing an entry, in case you would be interested in co-writing an entry with a friend/colleague.

How else can you contribute?

If you do not want to write about something, there are other ways you can help :

  1. Suggest more ELT personalities we should write about and explain why

  2. You can suggest an article that you have already written (perhaps for your personal blog) and we can discuss together if this can be a possible wikipedia entry.

  3. Improve on already written terms

 

How long do you have to dedicate?

We suggest that a rough deadline is 30- 40 days

BUT, several entries can be written in way less time!

How will you get credit for your contribution?

Your contribution will be published on Wikipedia, as well as on our blog with your name.

You can also keep a reflective journal of your experience. If you don’t have a blog, we’ll publish it for you.

If you write about an ELT personality, you can also consider interviewing this person.

Already, several entries are ready for wikipedia. Soon, we will start posting them.

I hope you will find the project interesting!