Is this an enormous privilege or a huge responsibility? I believe it is both and to move in my learning I ‘plunged into the flow’ of the new ideas, recent scientific research and convincing evidence that the world famous experts such as Herbert Puchta, Malgosia Tetiurka, Catherine Walter, Svetlana G.Ter-Minasova, Thom Kiddle and Gavin Dudeney focused on and discussed at the forum.
I found Herbert Puchta’s review on the concepts of the optimal learning age and his emphasis that there is no agreement among different scholars how age actually influences the process of learning a foreign language quite helpful. The principles of language acquisition that Herbert stressed in his talk particularly resonated with me. The most important are:
- teaching young learners goes far beyond simple input-output, learning happens through active participation in the classroom culture rather than the language being instilled into the students brains;
- young learners benefit from meaning-focused activities that are carefully elaborated;
- it is extremely important for teachers of young learners to be proficient users of both languages;
- if learning happens there is some socially shared cognition space and that is what actually takes place between parents and children, teachers and students and between students;
- very young learners do not learn extremely fast, it is an extended process and teachers must infer what learners know by observing what they do;
- relevance is one of the key aspects of long-term memory retention (dog Ginger);
- to engage students emotionally we need challenge, relevance and anticipated movement;
- teachers will be of help to their students in developing communicative competence and perfecting their linguistic competence but without the third dimension the first two can lead at best to an academic, flat, sterile achievement. The third competence is personal.
And last but not least that worth mentioning is simple and meaningful ‘quality criteria for stories for very young learners’ that Herbert shared with the participants and which I greatly appreciate.
Malgosia Tetiurka’s look at engagement as ‘flow experience’ attained as a result of balancing skills and challenge supported my personal experience of the issue. Vygotsky’s quotation ‘What a child can do with assistance today, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow’ that Malgosia offered clearly demonstrated a principle of scaffolding and guided learning that is essential in early foreign language learning. When Malgosia cited Cardner I experienced a sudden shift in perspective of the role of second language teaching. English moved toward being unlike other subjects in terms of making part of another cultural group a part of one’s self.
Catherine Walter introduced the three Es of grammar teaching, the ‘bicycle’ rule and the ‘boiling water’ rule. She also mentioned the order of the three Es – deductive (explanation, example, exercise) and inductive (example, explanation, exercise). Unfortunately she did not focus on the inductive approach which is particularly interesting to me as being one of the natural ways of noticing and acquiring a language, guiding students toward the rule which is not easy. But she promised to give a talk on inductive teaching if she is invited again. Catherine pointed out the link between perceptive pronunciation and grammar, the idea that I have recently encountered in ‘Phonology for listening’ by Richard Cauldwell. Unlike the author of the book she just briefly outlined the problem.
Thom Kiddle’s presentation helped to develop understanding of the most empowering form of assessment for teachers. According to Stoynoff (2012) it is classroom-based assessment. Continuing classroom-based assessment should integrate the teacher as well as the learners into the assessment process to meet the teaching and learning objectives of particular classes and students and offer students immediate and constructive feedback that will help them to become aware of their learning progress. It will monitor, evaluate and modify procedures to optimize teaching and learning. Thom also introduced available examples of itools in classroom-based assessment, such as screencasting, text readability etc. The most considerable outcome of the talk is that assessment should be adaptive and yield multiple samples that are collected over time and by means of multiple assessment procedures and activities. And again Thom like the previous speakers mentioned a significant role of challenge in development by quoting John Fowles and Daniel Martin ‘You create of what you lack. Not what you have.’
I would like to sum up with the crucial role of culture in enhancing effective communication that all of the plenary speakers seemed to raise awareness of and the evidence of which
the most brilliant and inspirational speaker Svetlana G.Ter-Minasova’s brought to the auditorium. She also shared a recipe for an ideal teacher. She thinks that to become such a teacher all we need is two ‘loves’ – love for the subject we teach and love for our students and even if we have one ‘love’ it is enough. I am a happy person – I have both!
And I am looking forward to my seven-week summer session in Norwich Institute for Language Education. I expect new insights, some ‘fresh air’ and movement.
Head of Department