Identity and Language Learning Across Time and Space, Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia
This session by Bonny Norton was something many attendees were looking forward to, and she didn’t disappoint. Her talk focused on research Bonny and some colleagues are doing in Uganda. Their research examines how technology can change the identities of the learners and teachers in an EFL setting. The guiding assumption of the research is that identities change over time and space, for both learners and teachers. Our identities are shaped by what is possible in the future. A critical definition of identity assumes multiple identities across time and space within one person, which deviates from the traditional definition of identity that assumes more polarized attributes (introvert/extrovert, good/bad, etc).
A guiding question during this session was:
What is the learner’s investment in the language and literacy practice of the classroom or community?
If investment is constructed socially, both the learner and the teacher are responsible for learning and language is a social practice. With the more rigid, traditional view of identity, the teacher is responsible to impart knowledge onto the learners. This view of identity seems to mesh well with a technologically-driven society where learning is not confined to the classroom. While Uganda differs from the United States and other more developed nations with regard to the types of technology and resources that are available, the ideals associated with social constructivism still seem to be present. Even with limited resources, students are invested in the digital.
Bonny showed a picture of a keyboard that a student had fashioned out of clay. While not functional in the way that we typically think of keyboards as being functional, the clay keyboard acted as a transition into actual digital tools. The imagined communities of the student that created the clay keyboard, those communities in which the student hopes to belong in the future, include digital tools. If we are to help learners reach their potential by acknowledging their multiple identities and their desires for the future, we need to give them the language associated with their imagined communities.
- Technology, however basic, can make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
- “When you communicate, you think your own English.” (as opposed to rote memorization)
- Learners’ relationships to each other and within their communities change through the use of technology.
- World Englishes allow learners to be unashamed to speak (even if it isn’t “The Queen’s English”).
Some questions to consider:
- How have the technological changes influenced literacy and language?
- How do you democratize knowledge flows with limited resources?
How Interactive, Practical, and Fair are Teacher-Made Assessments?, Stuart Landers, Missouri State University & John Thorpe, WestEd
This session was a review of the theoretical issues guiding teachers as they create language assessments for their learners. Having just come out of my required assessment course with Andrew Cohen, the theoretical portion of the presentation was interesting, but redundant. For teachers who hadn’t just gone through a semester-long course on assessment, it was probably a nice refresher. The practical aspects of assessment presented included a brief examination of example test items.
The characteristics of test usefulness that teachers should keep in mind while designing assessments for their learners include:
- practicality–is the assessment worth the time, effort, and money it takes to administer and score?
- reliability–is the assessment consistent and dependable? (both among students and raters)
- validity–is the assessment measuring what you want it to measure?
- authenticity–is the assessment asking learners to complete tasks with language that would actually be used?
What Teachers Learn from Professional Development: Two National Perspectives
This session was about an ongoing research project that looks at the available professional development opportunities for public school English teachers in Chile and Turkey. The researchers examined what opportunities were available, what was the teacher uptake resulting from professional development attended, and how did uptake influence practice in the classroom and student outcomes. The session focused on the second question of teacher uptake from PD opportunities attended.
The study was implemented on a scale that I can only imagine: 1,101 respondents and 3,345 PD events in Chile and 2,960 respondents and 8,945 PD events in Turkey. The data was collected between 2008 and 2011 via online questionnaires distributed by the ministries of education in each country.
While the presentation was interesting and it gave some insight into what it means to take on a research project of this magnitude, I think the main take-aways from their findings were:
- The number of years of experience a teacher had did not influence how valuable the teachers perceived PD to be. Teachers of all experience levels found value in almost all PD experiences.
- “What I think I can use drives what I think I learned.”
- The job of PD events is to create environments in which teachers can take away practical information. This information is reflected through the teachers and does not directly reflect the topics of PD events.
I think the findings of this study highlight what it means to be a teacher: every day consists of adaptation and practical application of theoretical and planned activities. Just as there is a difference between what a teacher plans to teach and what students learn, there is a difference between what PD events seek to teach educators and what teachers bring back to their classrooms.