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Linking Young Minds Together
  Volume 3 | Issue 21 | May 29, 2011 |


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The Superhero within Us

Sumaiya Ahsan Bushra

“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”
-Chinese proverb

In order to involve students and make classroom learning more interesting and interactive, it is essential that the teachers master the art of teaching first. With a modest aim as such, Bangladesh English Language Teachers' Association (BELTA) and English in Action (EIA) jointly organised the 5th BELTA International Conference 2011, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The three day conference was held at the BIAM Foundation located in Eskaton, in the capital. The programme successfully kicked off on May 20 and ended on May 22, 2011. The seminar was packed with 89 different sessions which included workshops, demonstrations, and paper and poster presentations. Each of these sessions focused on a wide range of topics which can help teachers, trainers, policy makers, researchers and post-graduate students get an insight into the world of teaching and learning.

Dr David Graddol speaking at the seminar. Photo: Golam Sarwar

The theme of the exciting conference was Learning English in a Changing World: Global Perspectives and Local Contexts. The invited guest speakers all spoke elaborately on their areas of specialisation. The keynote speaker was Dr David Graddol, who spoke about how global trends are reshaping the world of English Language Teaching (ELT). Other speakers were, Dr Jeremy Harmer, Dr Chistine Combe, Dr Huw Jarvis, Dr Sabiha Mansoor, Dr Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Dr Amol Padwad, Ms Zakia Sarwar and Dr Arifa Rahman. The Co-Chair of the conference, Dr Arifa Rahman, on this occasion, said, “Besides the guest speakers, there will be a wide range of very interesting presentations and 600 delegates will be treated to an exciting array of research, academic, methodological and fun-learning sessions. There will be something for every palate.”

The keynote speaker, Dr David Graddol emphasised on how global trends are reshaping the world of English Language Teaching (ELT). He pointed out that there has been a remarkable change in the use of English across the world, both in the way that it is taught and learned. He spoke about how the demographic and economic trends are changing educational and linguistic landscapes and helping to change the future of ELT. To make the presentation more detailed, Dr Graddol provided the audience with statistical data.

Participants listening with interest. Photo: Golam Sarwar
One of the speakers at the conference. Photo: Golam Sarwar

He added that schools in many countries around the world are now introducing English in lower grades and as a result the national population are becoming bilingual. Further on, Dr Graddol also showed few video clips of teachers teaching English in schools in various parts of India. Through this, he pointed out the problems in teaching English. He showed that the teaching methods used by these teachers were inaccurate and suggested that certain methods must be employed when teaching English.

On the first day of the conference, speakers Mahmuda Yasmin Shaila and Beth Trudell from BRAC University presented a paper on Preparing students for university success. In their presentation, they spoke about various issues on how students seek admission in English medium universities but do not have the proficiencies that match the English language requirements. They pinpointed on how the students can move from being passive to active learners and how they can become critical thinkers and confident English speakers. In addition, Kaushal Kishore presented a paper titled Don't ask us to read books in English…please. Kishore, an Assistant Professor of Education in Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya in India pointed out that most MEd students who come from Hindi belts in India face the problem of coping with reading materials in English. In his presentation, Kishore provided the genesis and remedies to such problems.

Similar to the first day, the second day was also filled with electrifying presentations and workshops. The sessions on 'Right here, right now: Learning English through mobiles,' 'Exploiting literature for language teaching,' Panel Debate on 'Classroom-based innovation in ELT -- how do we do it?,' 'Let's stop trashing CLT in Bangladesh' and 'It was wonderful, wonderful! -- teacher success, teacher beliefs' were the sessions that were amongst the favourites of many.

In the paper, 'Right here, right now: Learning English through mobiles' by Andrew Newton of Central and South Asia British Council spoke about how there is a sudden boom of using mobile phones to learn English in Bangladesh. He shared stories of teachers and learners who have taken up the use of technology to learn language and showed how technology has facilitated in bringing teachers and learners closer together than before.

Zakia Sarwar, Honorary Executive Director, Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers (SPELT) of Pakistan conducted a workshop titled 'Exploiting literature for language teaching.' The workshop was designed in a way to show how students can engage in literary texts in a manner that can help them learn and understand the English language. An excerpt from one of Shakespeare's poem was used where the audience was asked to listen to the audio of the poem and then fill in the gaps of the missing words of the excerpt provided to them. Sarwar also gave the audience a second task to do, where she provided them with illustrations of Shakespeare's 'Seven Ages of Man.' Here, the audience was asked to match the dialogues with the characters. Through this kind of exercise, Sarwar aimed to show that the students can increase their listening and understanding skills. She said that by following this procedure, students will be able to understand the use of English language before they begin to appreciate the importance of literature.

Promoting the use of English.
Photo: Golam Sarwar
Speakers and participants.
Photo: Golam Sarwar

The panel debate on 'Classroom-based innovation in ELT -- how do we do it?' was another session which set the stage on fire. Mike Solly, Senior Lecturer in Education at The Open University, United Kingdom was the moderator of the debate. Mike Solly in his introduction speech talked about different faces of innovation. He said, “Innovation is when someone or something changes in newer ways.” To reinforce Solly's statement, panel member Dr Arifa Rahman stated that innovation is something that is perceived as new. Dr Rahman urged the audience to break way from the traditional mindset and engage in appropriate communicative learning technology. While speaking on this issue, she pointed out the problems BELTA faces, like lack of financial support and the members not wanting to continue their work after a certain period since it is solely voluntary work.

In addition, Dr Sharmistha Das talked briefly about the role of English in Action (EIA) and explained its aim to give education in English to 25 million people in Bangladesh. She elaborated by saying that the organisation contributes to the economic growth of the country by providing communicative English as a tool for better access to the world economy. In the panel discussion, Dr Das also showed the changes that were identified through extensive research conducted in different parts of Bangladesh. These results portrayed increased confidence of teachers and students and increased use of English in classrooms.

Further on, others present at the panel discussion spoke about different innovative ways of teaching an English lesson. They also emphasised on the continuous effort of various organisations like British Council to spread literacy in English through new media and online training to English language teachers.

The most anticipated and favourite of all was the session conducted by Jeremy Harmer, a renowned ELT teacher. In his presentation 'It was wonderful, wonderful! -- teacher success, teacher belief,' he blew the audience with anecdotes and experiences of teachers from all over the globe. With the help of his miniature hi-tech multi function gadget consisting of a recorder, camera and a memory stick, he captured experiences of teachers in a series of flipcam interviews from Romania, Brazil, UK and many other places with one question in mind-tell me about a successful lesson you taught recently?. Through these videos he showed how each of these teachers using their own teaching methods could actually teach their students something meaningful and creative. In return, the joy of being the superhero is indeed a euphoric feeling that can be only understood by a teacher. He asked the audience to manufacture ways in which the students will want to give the teacher a standing ovation.

Apart from the regular presentations and workshops a book launching ceremony was also organised on the last day of the conference. The two books that were launched were, Dreams and Realities-developing countries and the English language and English language education in South Asia: from Policy to Pedagogy.

Participants present at the conference like teachers and post-graduate students expressed their views about the seminar. Miraj, teacher of Adam's Garden International School explained, “Through this conference I was able to learn more about methodology of teaching. This will help me to continue professional development and build my confidence level.” Shiblezzman, another teacher from Ramganj Government College said, “Through such seminars we can get updated on newer teaching techniques and also get a platform to meet renowned teachers.” Tabriz, a teacher trainer from BRAC Post-primary basic And Continuing Education (PACE) expressed his opinions, “I can get a practical flavour from the international experts. Then I can compare their techniques with our own. This kind of conference is not only beneficial for our country but also helps us build up our confidence level and makes us feel like real-life heroes.”

At the end of the three day marathon, one is likely to come to the conclusion that the conference was an enlightening event which was not only an eye opener to many but also something that enriched students and young teachers to enjoy the gift of teaching.



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