Live From TESOL 2014: Chaos and Complexity in Portland

Andy Curtis is blogging live from Portland
during the 2014 convention. Look for his posts!

The last plenary session of TESOL 2014 was given this morning by Prof. Diane Larsen-Freeman. Like the word “Wow” (see my last blog), the word “inspiring” can also be over-used, but that’s the word I heard myself and many other people using today, after the plenary. In fact, I think it was the only plenary at this year’s convention to receive a standing ovation. I remember having some very engaging and thought-provoking conversations with Dr. Larsen-Freeman during my brief but very enjoyable time teaching and learning at the School for International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, Vermont, many years ago.

One of Dr. Larsen-Freeman’s special abilities and skills is to narrow the gap between those of us at the more research-oriented end of the continuum and those of us who think of themselves as first-and-foremost classroom teachers. It’s been great to have the main annual events for AAAL and TESOL back-to-back and side-by-side in recent years, and that may not be possible in all of the future years. But that juxtapositioning of these two important events has not only helped build bridges between the data-based language researcher and the classroom-based language teacher, it has also highlighted some of the important differences between the two fields.

So, we need people like Dr. Larsen-Freeman to remind us of how much we have in common, and she did that today so well. With her characteristic gentle good humor, she presented a version and a vision of the language classroom which drew on extensive data, but which was also informed by metaphors and analogies from the natural world.

Building on her earlier work on Chaos Theory, Dr. Larsen-Freeman has developed her ideas on Complexity Theory and applied those ideas to our views of second language acquisition (SLA). As I wrote in my previous TESOL 2014 convention blog, good plenary presenters make us think. Whether or not we fully or partially agree or disagree with their ideas, we feel the need, as soon as we leave the auditorium, to go out into the light and articulate what we’re thinking and feeling.

Dr. Larsen-Freeman drew on examples from art, literature, and philosophy, and somehow weaved them into this clear and coherent patterned fabric. She helped us see how even the cherished notion of SLA—which has been at the heart of many areas of language research and writing, publishing, and presenting, for decades—may be worth reconsidering.

During my 3 years in the presidential line of our association, which started officially yesterday, I will be giving many presentations in many countries. I can only hope that, on those occasions, I can give the kind of presentation that I saw, heard, and heartfelt today. Another great series of “wow” moments!

Did you have any “wow” moments at the convention? Please share!

About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
Andy received his MA in Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching, and his PhD in International Education, both from the University of York in England, and he teaches TESOL courses online with the School of Graduate Education at Anaheim University, California. Over the years, he has written for TESOL Quarterly, TESOL Journal, TESOL Matters, and TESOL’s Essential Teacher. Andy will be installed as president-elect of the TESOL International Association in Portland, Oregon in 2014, and he will be president during TESOL’s 50th Anniversary Convention in Baltimore, Maryland in 2016.
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2 Responses to Live From TESOL 2014: Chaos and Complexity in Portland

  1. Walton says:

    I agree. I think Dr. Larsen-Freeman laid down a framework or model of language teaching that changes everything. I think it addresses pretty much everything I’ve ever heard anyone complain about it in ELT and shows that the frustration comes from our looking at the situation in the wrong way. It will be interesting what comes out of this.

  2. Thank you for summing up the session so nicely. I fully agree with you when you say,.”Whether or not we fully or partially agree or disagree with their ideas, we feel the need, as soon as we leave the auditorium, to go out into the light and articulate what we’re thinking and feeling. Not only think and feel but also to share with others who are not so fortunate to attend the plenary sessions in the real world. Looking forward to reading your posts.

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