Over 500 English-language teachers from all over Thailand gathered at the 30th Annual Thailand Tesol International Conference from Jan 29 to 30 at the Twin Towers Hotel, Bangkok.
Thai and foreign English-language teachers present and learn new pedagogies at the recent Tesol conference. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN
The event, which was held under the theme of "Sharing, Caring and Daring", was organised by Thailand Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (Thailand Tesol) in collaboration with its partners.
"We expect that the teaching and learning of English in the future should consist of these three things," said Asst Prof Ubon Sanpatchayapong, president of Thailand Tesol.
Secrets of excellence
First up was the keynote speech delivered by Khunying Kasama Voravarn na Ayudhaya, PhD, a former secretary-general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (Obec).
She shared with the audiences some of her thoughts on her favourite book, The Six Secrets of Change by Michael Fullan, the ideas in which can be adopted for developing a meaningful teaching career.
The first secret is to "love your employees". The ex-head of Obec explained that "teachers have to be taken care of to ensure that they are motivated, given ample opportunities to improve their skills and encouraged to interact with their co-workers. They must also be provided an environment wherein they can enjoy teaching".
The second secret is to "connect peers with purpose". She said that even though several meetings among educators have been organised, the meetings often lacked direction.
"We have to make sure that we have good direction. But meaningful sharing can only come about when peers work with each other, share with each other and learn from each other for improvement," she said.
The third point that she picked up, and which she regarded as the most important, is "transparent rules".
"Sometimes the large sums of money that we spend on workshops and training programmes do not help because the efforts do not relate directly to the work of teachers," she continued, adding that it is important for teachers to explore their pedagogies, or what Khunying Kasama referred to as "black boxes."
"There is always a wealth of wisdom hidden in every teacher's black box, so we, as teachers, must dare to open up our black boxes, dare to analyse their contents, and determine what works and what does not work for improving our students," Khunying Kasama said. She concluded by saying, "At the same time, teachers must be careful to ensure that their comments on their students' work are neither threatening nor punitive. If they are successful in achieving these objectives, their students will appreciate their feedback and guidance."
Assessment for learning
The speech in the first plenary session was delivered by Prof Chris Davison, PhD, head of the School of Education at the University of New South Wales. Her topic was "Assessment for Learning (AFL) in English Language Teaching in Asia: From Theory to Practice".
"The first priority in designing an assessment system, even if it is through formal examinations, is that it must serve the purpose of promoting people's learning, not selection for entry into the university, not ranking their capabilities. Those are important purposes, but they are not the primary purposes of assessment," Prof Davison stressed.
She spoke in some detail about AFL, which refers to any assessment that primarily aims to improve learners' competence in learning.
"An assessment can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback by teachers and their pupils in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged," the professor explained.
Many countries have included AFL in their curricula, for example, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei and Korea.
She said that the most important characteristic of AFL is that it is assumed that every student can improve.
AFL emphasizes that assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning. A variety of assessment measures is used, such as student profiling, informal tests and quizzes, performance assessments, portfolios, journals, etc.
One of the key criteria in assessment is that assessment components have to take into account that students have different strengths and weaknesses, all of which lead to different outcomes.
"You can take the best students in the class and show them how they can improve and you can take students that are the most in need of development and show them what they have already achieved. That is absolutely critical," said Prof Davison.
Besides incorporating assessment into teaching and learning models, the other characteristics that need to be part of AFL include sharing learning goals with students and teaching them how to identify the standards that they are aiming for. Students also need to engage in continuous peer- and self-assessment.
Assessors need to provide constructive and qualitative feedback to help students to identify their next steps. "Good feedback enables students to be aware of what they have done as well as what they need to do next," the professor noted.
Finally, teachers and students should regularly review and evaluate assessment data together.
In another plenary session, Prof Yilin Sun, PhD, from South Seattle Community College delivered a speech under the title of "Trends, Issues, Challenges and Responsibilities of Non-Native Speaking Tesol Education in the Global ELT (English Language Teaching) Field over the Next Decade".
Prof Sun expounded on how non-native English-language teachers should prepare themselves for a world in which their careers in the English-teaching industry are gaining increasing prominence.
First of all, they need to understand the goals of teaching and learning English. "The next task or challenge for teachers is to contextualise language teaching, so that we produce users of the language, not just learners. Contexualised language teaching will allow learners to use what they have learned, and they will learn better through frequent exposure and usage," the professor said.
She added that teachers should not focus on accuracy or fluency. Rather, they should pay attention to communicative competence.
Next, non-native English-language teachers have to maximised their learning opportunities. They need to be confident and open-minded. Such teachers should attend and participate actively in conferences and workshops related to their fields so as to enhance their teaching competence.
They should form learning communities and networks with colleges that have native and non-native English speakers for the purpose of exchanging teaching and research ideas, as well as to produce and disseminate teaching and learning materials, such as publishing articles and conducting presentations at academic gatherings. Prof Sun added that it is also important to value the perspectives, expertise and resources of non-native English-language teachers, as many of these professionals possess unique strategies and experiences not found in monolingual English teachers.
Finally, non-native English-language teachers should also make use of different strategies and technologies in teaching as well as involve themselves in professional organisations.
Other speakers at the conference included, Ivan Moore from Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, Tim Cornwall, PhD, director of Educators Network (Thailand) Co, Gail O'Connell from Ruamrudee International School and many other speakers.
Video clips from the conference and more information on Thailand Tesol are found at http://www.thaitesol.org .