Plenaries

This is a menu of the plenary presentations I have up my sleeve. Each may be followed by a workshop or a Q&A session on request. Pick and choose the one your audience is likely to enjoy. None of them? Not to worry. Please suggest an idea – I’ll try to turn it into something useful and interesting.

“Elfies at large – Beware!”

It is common knowledge that English has become the Lingua Franca the world over. Today the overwhelming majority of communication takes place between nonnative users of English, often in the absence of native speakers. Given this, proponents of the ELF  movement, whom I call elfies in my lecture, claim that native English standards need not be followed any longer. After I have subjected this assumption to critical analysis, I conclude that teachers had better follow their own agenda and satisfy their learners’ genuine needs, instead of listening to elfies – or any other researchers, for that matter.

“Always look on the bright side – Being a non-native teacher”

img026-400The bad news is that we are linguistically handicapped – there is no way we can emulate native speakers in terms of their English-language competence. The good news is that we can (a) provide a better learner model for imitation; (b) teach language learning strategies more effectively; (c) supply learners with more information about the English language; (d) anticipate and prevent language difficulties more successfully; (e) be more empathetic to the needs and problems of learners; (f) make better use of the the learners’ mother tongue. The aim of this plenary is to discuss these controversial claims, with the final message that natives and non-natives are potentially equally effective teachers.

“Laughing matters”

Humour is the yeast of life and the best medicine. It is possible to live without humour, but what a terribly dreary life that could be! Everybody is born with a sense of humour. Even people who boldly claim that they have an excellent sense of humour. In fact, we would sooner confess to murder than to a lack of humour. Why is it then that coursebooks authors pull such a serious face? Is it possible that they are intimidated by concerns such as marketing policies and political correctness? Do you know that there was a time when humour reigned supreme? How can humour be sneaked back into the teaching materials? And what about the ELT classroom? Do we have enough laughter? How do we react to our students’ asides? Or do we even encourage them to crack jokes? Do we attempt to weave humour into the fabric of our classes or just regard it as a welcome break after the serious stuff has been covered? (I’m biased FOR humour of [almost] any kind. Beware!)

“The ventriloquist”

In our increasingly complex and elusive world, teaching is one of the messiest human endeavours. Teachers are entangled in a web of conflicting expectations and roles, partly externally imposed, partly self-induced. Perceiving their inability to find answers to their professional (and personal) problems, they dread change and suffer from anxiety. The unhappy teacher is an all too common sight these days. It looks as if there is no way out of this impasse. But there is! This plenary concludes by offering a few ideas about how you can regain your self-confidence and be a happy teacher (once again).

“Why won’t the little beasts behave?”

After nearly twenty years of absence, I returned to the classroom to teach a group of 15-year-olds. I held out for two years before the kids had made mincemeat of me. Why was I unable to cope? Are the kids any worse today than their predecessors were? Anyway, what is classroom discipline? How do you judge the “train → disobey → punish → obey” paradigm? If without discipline there is no effective teaching, why do ELT authors still give this problem short shrift? And why don’t teachers discuss it either? By the way, to which category of teacher do you belong: that of the strict and scary, the firm but fun, or the soft and shaky teacher? How does the reflective teacher view classroom discipline and the problems relating to it?

“The Dinosaur”

This plenary deals with the unstoppable spread of information technology and the impact it exerts on foreign language education. It points out that the gap between learners, who have been born into the digital age, and teachers, who are desperately trying to keep abreast with the rapidity of technological advances, is sadly widening. The lecture ends by offering two possible solutions, and it is left to the audience to choose the one they prefer.

“The fifth paradox – What’s the English lesson all about?”

This plenary challenges certain deep-set beliefs about language teaching. Namely, it claims that (a) foreign languages are unique subjects in the school curriculum; (b) learners have no messages to convey in the foreign language; (c) the foreign language is an inadequate means of communication; (d) the foreign language lesson is not suitable for creating life-like situations; (e) the artificialities of the foreign-language class can only be endured if both teacher and learners suspend their beliefs in normalcy and join the language learning circus.

“Teaching English is a political act – a non-P.C. dialogue”

For good or ill, teachers are political animals. Education is a political act and we are unwittingly involved in a power game in and outside the school. We are powerful and powerless at the same time: powerful in relation to our students, and powerless in terms of our social status. To be sure, TESOL is the politically most charged subject in the school curriculum. In order to assess its universal currency of this claim, I circulated a questionnaire in which fellow-professionals were requested to answer some embarrasingly non-P.C. questions about the role of politics in TESOL. This plenary reports on their responses.

“Teachers turned ambassadors”

This plenary raises questions about deep-set beliefs underpinning the current practice of teacher education. It argues that being an English teacher implies far more than going into the classroom and getting it over with. As soon as the lesson ends, the teacher is bombarded with language-related questions in the corridor, in the staffroom and at home round the clock. Being an English teacher therefore is not simply a job: it is a way of life. This being the case, teacher education should break out from narrow confines of the classroom and train student teachers to become ’ambassadors’ of the English language – as well as the cultures that it carries.

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