Impression of the 53rd International IATEFL Conference
By Andrea Lutz
Arriving at Liverpool James Street a bitter wind coming over the Mersey made sure I was fully awake on Monday morning the 1st of April. I soon found my way to the ACC where the conference was held to join the other visitors for the pre-conference event. After registration I was eager to get started with the day ahead. I enrolled in the Special Interest Group of Testing, Evaluation and Assessment: Authenticity in assessment of productive skills.
John Pill from Lancaster University presented the question ‘What does authenticity in assessment mean?’ to the 30 attendees. Soon we were engaged in a lively discussion concerning this topic. What do you want to test: language or the ability to discuss? Should writing be more focused on social context i.e. writing for someone else to read it? Could reading be integrated in all testing instead of it being marked as a separate skill?
Sian Morgan and Andrew Kitney representing Cambridge English showed the importance of involving real world situations in testing and assessing and set the attendees to work by letting us create authentic writing tasks in smaller groups.
Dana Gablasova also from Lancaster University surprised me with incorporating a computer-aided approach to language testing. Copora is a computer analysis of language which processes a large amount of language, annotates grammatical structures and identifies patterns in language. These databases can be extremely useful in constructing tests or as examples of genres. A truly eye-opening experience so see this huge collection of gathered language and in which ways corpus can be useful for TEFL teachers. I recommend you check this out!
Bachman and Palmer presented test usefulness in validity, impact, reliability, practicality and authenticity. To use your colleagues as resource experts is in my opinion a sound way to develop tests. We discussed how you can find a good balance between authentic testing and the practicality of it. Which components are needed to measure direct skills? How could integrated testing of productive skills take place? One by one valid questions especially in the light of current new ideas on testing and evaluating. New ideas are popping up around the globe which I believe to be a very good development but not a very easy job to tackle. The current systems of testing and evaluating are well rooted in society!
All in all, a wonderful and highly educational first conference day!
Due to the deadline of publishing this newsletter I’m not able to complete the full story. The second part will be published shortly on the webpage, under IATEFL. My apologies!
Part 2 – First real, and for me only, conference day
The official opening of the 2019 IATEFL conference started with the welcoming words of the IATEFL president …..
He introduced us to Paula Rebolledo, a Chillean teacher, who presented Teacher empowerment: leaving the twilight zone. This highly energetic lady showed us where we are now; what does teacher empowerment actually mean? Is it just a buzz word? She then made the connection with the twilight zone and the description of it which relates to a vast space between science and superstition; isn’t that what education is? she asked the audience.
She continued to question if empowerment is something that can be given to teachers by external factors or something teacher desire themselves? According to Paula there are six dimensions that influence empowerment: impact, professional growth, autonomy, self-efficacy, status and decision making.
Over the past few years and in different fields, the word “empowerment” has become increasingly used in talks, papers and social media. Education, of course, has not escaped this trend and the concept is frequently mentioned as a desired outcome of any educational activity and teachers, among the lucky ones to benefit from it. However, and interestingly, the notion of empowerment is usually not defined and hardly discussed in depth. Is then empowerment such a common concept these days that needs no clarification? Or, is it that its complexity deters any further analysis? I believe the persistent calls for the empowerment of teachers demand a closer study of the process and a critical appraisal of its occurrence. In this talk, we will examine the concept of empowerment and “teacher empowerment” more specifically. I will draw on general education literature to present the different dimensions of teacher empowerment and what research findings suggest regarding its role in students’ achievement. We will then zoom in on English language teaching and look at how empowered English teachers claim to feel by sharing stories of empowerment and disempowerment. In doing so, I will invite you to reflect on enabling features, hindering factors and paradoxes identified to ultimately think of ways forward if we ‘truly’ wish teacher empowerment to leave the twilight zone.