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Name: Tien Minh Mai
Current position: English language teacher, Vietnam Australia International School, Ho Chi Minh City
WHY I APPLIED FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
‘Summer is always the time when I reflect on my teaching practice, and so I attend workshops and webinars, and this year decided to apply for an IATEFL Scholarship. I reviewed the profiles of previous winners and was particularly inspired by the Vietnamese entrants, and by the task set for the Cambridge English Teacher Scholarship. I consider the Cambridge English Teaching Framework to have a great number of applications, including the systematic identification of strengths and weaknesses. The previous year, my mentor had enrolled me on a Cambridge English Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) training course and I also used this experience in my submission.
‘It took some time for me to realise that I had actually won this prestigious Scholarship – this is the third time I’ve entered and as a famous Vietnamese saying goes, ‘no-one fails three times in a row’!
I expect the IATEFL Conference to be an eye-opening experience; I have already started to record my current classroom challenges and hope to consult with experts when I am there. Obviously, the Conference will also open up a whole new world of professional development opportunities, and allow me to collaborate with colleagues locally and globally, thereby helping me to become a more rounded and professional Cambridge English teacher. It will also be my first trip to England, and the realisation of a dream – I am looking forward to seeing Manchester, and to what will be a journey of cultural exchange!’
‘Outline and justify where you feel you are located on the Cambridge English Teaching Framework. What development activities do you plan to undertake to progress in each category?’
For Tien, the Cambridge English Teaching Framework is an excellent means of systematically analysing strengths and weaknesses. Mapping himself against the Framework, Tien considered himself ‘Proficient’ in ‘Learning and the Learner’, thanks to his post-graduate education and teaching experience, but graded himself as ‘Developing’ in all other criteria, the result of a number of weaknesses in his current teaching performance. These included an overreliance on Google to check lexical and grammatical accuracy, a tendency to reformulate his students’ writing rather than help them self-correct, and using a grading strategy that failed to deliver effective feedback. In turn, Tien was resistant to feedback from colleagues, unless they were his superiors.
Recognising the emergence of a ‘fixed mindset’ regarding professional development, Tien adopted a strategy which he defined as ‘reflect, connect and implement’. He systematically tracked his teaching progress using notes, film and audio, and proactively reflected on issues such as ‘how to differentiate instruction methods in a mixed ability class’. As being a non-native English speaker undermined his confidence, he began to accept feedback from colleagues and managers, while also pushing for a more collaborative teaching approach and the sharing of best practice. He further expanded his experience by, for example, becoming increasingly involved in professional bodies such as Cambridge English Teacher and IATEFL, and reading more widely. He then used his professional growth to improve his classroom performance; he spent more time lesson planning, defined clearer and more tangible outcomes for his students, and adopted an ‘action research’ approach. For Tien, the Cambridge English Teaching Framework has therefore provided a ‘pedagogical compass’, which has helped him improve his own teaching and encouraged greater collaboration in his school.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
‘This entry showed a clear understanding of the Cambridge English Teaching Framework and how it can be used by teachers to understand their abilities. It demonstrated in-depth engagement with the categories of the Framework and presented an honest self-assessment of skills and knowledge in those areas, identifying specific areas for improvement. Appropriate levels were given with meaningful justification. The teacher’s proposal to develop through reflection, connection and implementation was well explained, practical and realistic. A good range of sensible development options were explored, and the judges felt that following this plan would lead to real improvement for this teacher. Overall, the judges felt the entry was presented in an authentic tone of genuine self-reflection, which is in the spirit of the Framework.’
Regarding presentations, since all presenters have their own focus, one can learn from the way they deliver their talks, or the way they use metaphors to convey a stronger ELT message. While some talks made me laugh from beginning to end, others were more thoughtful. For example, the talk that I can use immediately in my classroom was on IELTS Writing Task 2, with a focused and upfront explanation of planning techniques that revealed a sensible approach to IELTS writing, the skill that worries my students the most. Secondly, the analysis of the Cambridge English Teaching Framework was also very meaningful for teachers wanting to plan their own professional development activities. Now, with the ready-to-use tracker, the Teaching Framework will be very user-friendly.
Beyond becoming a Scholarship winner (a remarkable highlight that I can proudly add to my professional CV) I would say that attending the Conference is a wonderful chance for networking or more specifically, for admiration. You can listen to talks from teachers working in all corners of the world, become updated with the latest and most effective tools in language teaching, and be amazed by the most creative ideas in under resourced teaching contexts. I’m intrigued by the fact that the IATEFL organizers, while emphasizing the diversity of presenters, still manage to maintain its excellent standard.
I made many new contacts, and my teaching circle is no longer limited to a particular region but has expanded internationally, reflecting the fact that no teacher is alone in ELT, and I’m very glad to be a part of this. IATEFL and Cambridge English will certainly see an enhanced version of me as a practitioner, action researcher and committee member in my teaching association in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Thank you Cambridge English for this opportunity!
Name: Quynh Tran
Current position: Teacher, North American International English School, Ho Chi Minh City
WHY I APPLIED FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
‘I first learnt about the IATEFL Conference at an event in Vietnam - I really wanted to attend and learn more about English language teaching, but knew I would never be able to afford the trip. However, when I heard about the Scholarships, I realised that the Dr Peter Hargreaves award was ideal for me; I am a young teacher and still learning how to make the transition from theory to practice, and the task given by Cambridge English allowed me to talk about some of the problems I had encountered in my teaching role, and how I overcame them.
‘Winning the Scholarship means a great deal to me – at the IATEFL Conference I can learn about the new ideas and techniques that will help me to become a better teacher, while also meeting teaching professionals from around the world. In particular, I want to learn as much as I can about effective approaches to teaching young learners, and hopefully connect with other professionals with similar interests to my own. This will also be the first time in my life that I have left Vietnam, and have the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture which I have studied for more than half my life, and so I am looking forward to experiencing the things I’ve only read about or seen on screen.’
‘Outline one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the classroom, and how you handled it. Reflecting on this, how would you improve your approach if you were faced with it again?’
Quynh described her first professional post after university – teaching English to pre-school pupils at an English learning centre. She was excited by the children’s exuberance and curiosity, but found that they were easily distracted and so instead of delivering a productive learning experience, as demanded by the parents, Quynh spent more and more class time trying to maintain her pupils’ focus. To keep students engaged, Quynh initially adopted a strategy of constantly varied, short activities linked to a system of extrinsic rewards, such as stickers. Looking back, although the approach was initially a success, it was also lacking in a number of areas, relying heavily on extrinsic rewards while also failing to exploit the same exuberance and curiosity that first impressed Quynh, and which could be used to progress learning. Now Quynh uses a constantly varied programme of activities with deliberate changes of pace. A typical lesson will include an introductory and goodbye song, a target of five new words, games to review learning in both the current and previous lesson, drawing time linked to vocabulary. Quynh notes that this approach allows her students to expend their energy, thereby improving their focus, and ensures that extrinsic rewards are used as ‘true’ rewards, not bribes. She also realises that teachers of young learners need to have a real enthusiasm for teaching at this level because students know if the teacher is ‘faking it’.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
‘The teaching challenge in this entry was very well presented. It gave appropriate background, illustration and detail to understand the context and the difficulty that arose. The description helped the judges understand why the situation was difficult from this teacher’s personal perspective and level of experience – even if it may not have been a challenge for a teaching expert – and the judges felt that the critique was insightful and demonstrated an admirable self-reflective attitude. The teacher suggested sensible improvements to the approach in hindsight, providing strong justifications for why the alternatives would have been better. In addition to considering the entry to be the strongest, the judges felt this teacher would really benefit from attending the IATEFL Conference.’
I think the most useful presentations I attended were on HOT (high order thinking) listening tasks for learners, and on diversity in young learner English language programmes. I found the HOT presentation very useful because this was a new concept for me, and a way to push students and help them to analyze issues, particularly in listening tasks. The second presentation was also very practical and useful to my own teaching since my students are mainly young learners and teenagers and it is important to teach tolerance and diversity from a young age.
Personally, the Conference was a great chance for me to connect with other teachers and make new friends, and was also a very useful way to gain better insights into communication as well as into the culture of other countries. I realized that the English are not as cold as other people have said – instead, they are very friendly and hospitable. The way they were talking to other people was really attractive and interesting.
Professionally, I think my networking experience will help me a lot in my teaching career. I have made connections with so many specialists who I can ask for advice when I encounter obstacles in my teaching. I can also learn new ideas for my classroom by reading what they share online which will be very helpful in my teaching career.
Name: Alison Salm
Current position: EAP Instructor, University of Kurdistan, Hewler
WHY I APPLIED FOR A SCHOLARSHIP
‘Although I have been teaching for over a decade, I have never had the opportunity to visit the IATEFL Conference and so I decided to apply for the Scholarship. In my role at the University, I have been involved in the course development, and leading of a preparatory module for the English exam taken by foundation students applying for undergraduate study, and so I am keen to develop my knowledge of testing, assessment and evaluation. I was also interested in the focus of the John Trim Scholarship on Action Research, as I have become increasingly interested in the learning behaviour of my students, in particular their resistance to note-taking in classes. Together with a colleague, I have been planning to investigate why students think this is an effective learning strategy, and was able to describe my research plan in my Scholarship application.
‘I am extremely excited to have won the Scholarship as it will allow me to attend the IATEFL Conference for the first time – an otherwise expensive trip from this part of Iraq. I am eager to gain more insights into various aspects of English language teaching and learning, hear from prominent experts, and network with others in the profession which might hopefully lead to opportunities for further collaboration in research and teaching. Membership of IATEFL and Cambridge English Teacher will allow me to engage with the wider EFL community, to which I hope to contribute through my research in this developing region, and I also plan to share the knowledge I have gained at the Conference with my colleagues. I believe the experience will be the highlight of my professional career; my Scholarship has already encouraged me to continue with my research proposal, and I hope to present my research findings at future IATEFL Conferences. Winning the Scholarship was a huge personal achievement and I expect to fully enjoy the whole Mancunian experience!’
Action Research is a type of teacher research that involves practitioners investigating an issue in their own context through a number of stages or cycles. Find a meaningful definition of Action Research and describe what you would explore through this approach. State what you think the impact would be on yourself, your learners and more widely.
As a pre-sessional EAP instructor in the English-medium University of Kurdistan, Alison noticed that her students had little experience of note-taking in lectures, and although this skill was introduced in pre-sessional classes it was not transferred to undergraduate study. Many students recorded PowerPoint slides with their mobile phones, however, even though these were available online. As most undergraduate teaching is in a lecture format, a failure to take notes could be detrimental to knowledge retention, and so Alison devised an Action Research project to ask students how they viewed note-taking, establishing whether they perform better having taken notes, and whether smartphones could be a suitable replacement. Alison planned to collect information through questionnaires and by analysing controlled lecture-based exams, with the ultimate aim of improving future learning strategies.
Alison was aware that many students’ English skills were relatively poor, and as note-taking required a complex combination of writing and listening skills, students found listening to be a more effective tool. If the research supports this assertion, Alison suggests an increased focus on listening skills at the pre-sessional stage, and more work on whether smartphones are a useful learning tool. If note-taking proves to have real value, however, then this skill should be prioritised instead. Whatever the outcome, Alison’s research will help undergraduate staff understand their students better, and encourage the adoption of more effective teaching styles.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
‘In her essay on Action Research, Alison provided a clear definition from the literature and identified a current challenge that her students are facing - note-taking in undergraduate English-medium instruction classes in Kurdistan - that she would explore using this approach. Within the short word limit she presented a good balance of definition, contextualisation and reflection on the topic, including a solid set of research questions and feasible methodology based on her own experience and teaching environment.’
I went to many talks on critical thinking as in the Middle East my EAP learners are used to an education system based on memorization, and can find it difficult to transfer ideas and skills learnt in one context to another. Helping students make connections and think in a way they have never been asked (or allowed) to do before is a key skill, especially in a country desiring development. I also found the pre-conference SIG on testing and validity very interesting; I had expected to be overwhelmed with complex issues but in fact I found all the talks highly relevant. Many of my non-western students appear to be at a disadvantage due to lack of content knowledge when taking a high-stakes English test and it was good to discuss the issues surrounding this. I left the session feeling more confident and inspired to learn more about validity!
I also attended talks on reading, a skill I feel is often neglected as progress is difficult to measure, and found the forum on approaches to developing reading skills really thought provoking and practical, as was the presentation on fluency. I also went to several talks on learning technologies, and hope to apply some of these ideas as I feel my learners would be highly motivated by, for example, film making opportunities especially in my public speaking course. Harry Kuchah’s plenary session left me nodding my head in agreement as he spoke about trying to implement a communicative approach in difficult and typically non-western contexts where resources are basic and class sizes are large. Having lived abroad for some years, I recognize that ideals largely based on western research do not fit every context, and that a learner centred approach means just that – recognising the needs of a learner within the immediate context.
It was easy to make friends and contacts, and we Cambridge English Scholarship winners have also formed our own network which I am sure will benefit me professionally as we hope to exchange ideas and possibly collaborate on future projects! It was also fantastic to meet many familiar names whose articles I’ve read and editors of publications I would love to write for. The whole experience was invaluable, professionally and personally, and I will certainly endeavour to attend the 50th Anniversary IATEFL Conference in Birmingham next year.