The TESOL President’s Blog
In keeping with this year of firsts for TESOL International Association, and as part of our goal of “Taking TESOL to the World,” following our first event in India (with the association’s first president of Indian origin) and our first in Vietnam, we recently held our first TESOL Symposium in Mexico, on 4 November, in Cancún, Quintana Roo. The “Innovations and Breakthroughs in ELT” Symposium was attended by nearly 200 participants, most of whom were from all across Mexico, as well as attendees from Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America.
As the online program overview explained: “Now that the 21st century is well under way, educators need to move past 21st-century learning and move into 21st-century application…These changes include characteristics of the new ELT student, the shifting expertise of the ELT educator, external factors affecting the classroom, and the changes that come with technology.” The questions considered during the symposium included:
- How is what English language professionals teach now different from what was taught just 15 to 20 years ago?
- What does an effective English language teacher look like today?
- How has language teaching methodology changed since 2000?
- How can teachers and administrators successfully engage the 21st-century learner?
As with all TESOL Association events, when putting together the program, great care was taken to include as many different perspectives—local, national and, international—as possible. In this case, in terms of “country of origin,” the speakers came from Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Egypt—that’s four countries and three continents within six speakers, making it an especially diverse and inclusive group. In fact, in terms of a “Diversity Index” (DI)—which I use to refer to how much cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as experiential, generational, and other indicators of diversity, are embodied within a number of individuals—this group of speakers represented one of the highest DIs we’ve been able to achieve. So far.
As part of our “Taking TESOL to the World” initiative, affordability for local and national teachers is another concern. So, with the support of the association’s strategic partner, National Geographic/Cengage Learning, the registration fee was US$40 for residents of Mexico, and the same for participants with other countries with a gross national income (GNI) of less than US$15,000 per year. This is part of the association’s commitment to minimizing costs, while maximizing opportunities for involvement and engagement.
TESOL Past President, Mark Algren (2009–2010), from the University of Missouri in the United States, spoke about how teachers can use technology to connect locally and globally. Another, more recent, TESOL Past President (2013–2014), Deena Boraie, from the American University in Cairo, Egypt, encouraged language teachers to engage with research, for example, through reading articles, and to engage in research, by carrying out classroom research. Mario Herrera, with the State Language School of Nuevo León, in Mexico, talked about his work with young learners of English in Mexico, and Mira Malupa-Kim, originally from the Philippines, now working at Alliant International University, in San Diego, California, explored how technology is changing the roles and responsibilities of language teachers and learners.
Luke Meddings, from London, England, used the metaphors of food, meals, and restaurants to present colorful and creative ideas for textbook-free language teaching and learning. And Higinio Ordoñez, with the Escuela Normal de Atlacomulco, Mexico, made the case that “language teachers need to speak English, but the best speaker is not always an excellent teacher,” and questioned the idea that “better English” equals “better teachers.” To double the teaching and learning opportunities, each speaker gave his or her presentation twice. Click here for more information about the speakers.
Although this symposium was only a 1-day event, we managed to cram a great deal into the day, starting with registration at 7:30 am, and wrapping up at the end of the closing session at 5:30 pm, making it a 10-hour event. During the closing panel discussion (which I was asked to chair), a number of recurring themes emerged. These included the ongoing difficulties of finally burying, once and for all, the notion of “native speaker norms” in ELT, which has been a contradiction-in-terms for some time now. And the importance of the careful and selective, thoughtful and creative use of language teaching technologies, so that the teaching continues to come first, driving the technology–not the other way around.
One of the many positive points that emerged throughout the day, and in the closing panel, was the commitment of the six invited speakers to learn from each other, to connect their talks, and to learn from their workshop participants. In addition to giving some of the opening and closing comments, I was able to spend time in all six of the presentations (in some cases twice, as each one was presented twice), as a result of which I can confirm that it was one of the most worthwhile and enriching single days of professional development that many of us have engaged in this year.