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Reflections 1997 Conference

 

In this issue, two chairs, Lana White and David Westgate, wrote a formal report on ‘their’ clusters of sessions, Language Awareness and ‘Skills. Mary Kooy and Ken Watson wrote an informal report on the sessions they chaired: Fiction. Regina Piontek, co-chair of Educational Policy, wrote a personal report on the conference. This issue starts with a short account from the organizers, Ken Watson and Gert Rijlaarsdam, and conclude with a first announcement of the forthcoming books and the next conference.

Gert Rijlaarsdam & Ken Watson, About the first IAIMTE Conference

IAIMTE Conference, Amsterdam : 9 - 11 July 1997

The first IAIMTE conference in Amsterdam was quite a success, thanks to the very interesting variety of topics and the variety of approaches to teaching and learning of language and literature. And thanks to very intensive and energetic participation of the attendants. Ken Watson and I would like to thank all participants, coming from such a variety of countries and cultures, taking interest in such a variety of themes, participating so empathetic and critical.

We were very glad that a variety of nations/regions will be present from Europe (in random order: France, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, Romania, England, Ireland, Switzerland, Romania), Israel, Canada, United States, Australia, Phillipines, India.

Although the key word Mother Tongue Education in the IAIMTE bears manifold associations, it seems that the message got through: the IAIMTE is not about the teaching of English in English speaking countries, but about the teaching of the mainstream language (French in France, Spanish in Spain) and of minority languages like Catalonian in Catalonia (region in Spain). Our aim is to connect scholars in the teaching and learning of language and literature from different countries and regions. Our basic belief is that teachers in primary and secondary education, teaching language, literature and culture have a lot in common from a methodological perspective. Teaching writing in language X in Country X has a lot in common with teaching writing in language Y in country Y. The only (sic!) essential difference is the language and culture. Learning from each other by relating shared problems and successes, different (educational) cultures & policy, comparing, generating examples, abstracting: those were the days in July 1997.

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Lana White, IAIMTE CONFERENCE 1997: LANGUAGE AWARENESS

West Texas A&M University, Amarillo, Taxas USA

The language awareness theme of the IAIMTE validated the worth of the aims of the association. Not only were similarities of teaching methods among diverse languages discovered by participants, but also similarities of fundamental philosophies were found.

The members of IAIMTE found at the July conference that the sharing of research among diverse cultures and languages has worth because of two principles: One, the similarities we share enable us to borrow concepts and methods that our colleagues around the globe have perfected. Two, the differences we have enable us to see our own situations more clearly

through contrasting, for example, the effects of Polish politics on education with the effects of USA politics on education.

As a teacher in the USA, I was not aware that Sigmund Freud's books had been banned Poland during Soviet rule. But after Elisabeth Czykwin explained the effects of the ban on Polish education, I was moved to think about how thoroughly Freudian theories have been assimilated in USA theories about child rearing and consequently in theories of education.

Now under Solidarity, Freudian theories are entering Polish education. If consistent dialogue between the two nations existed, could Polish education profit from US mistakes? Could the US examine Polish education and discover where we have gone amiss with Freudian theories?

In addition to the learning that occurred in one-on-one encounters between participants, the organised sessions offered many rich insights. In the first session, Anthony Adams and Witold Tusesiewicz of the University of Cambridge advocated language awareness programmes to be included through cross-curricular offerings. Teachers in every subject taught in schools could heighten students' awareness of how their mother tongue creates meaning. The purposes of such language awareness programmes include students' fuller understanding and control over their mother tongue and an increased interest in languages as they accommodate human needs. Perhaps appreciation for the mother tongue could lead to greater enrolments in foreign language classes. Adams and Tulesiewicz cautioned that such language awareness programmes need to be systematic with tests being administered to evaluate students' learning.

In the Dutch elementary curriculum, Amos van Gelderen and Marian Jacobs have examined the learning goals of language awareness. They found a lack of systematic language awareness subject matter even in formal language studies. Teachers lacked theoretical foundation in language awareness. Consequently, no clear routes of learning and no clear goals exist in the schools. In the Netherlands, the problems will be addressed in a project called Foundation for Curriculum Development.

Liz Savage and Regina Piontek discussed difficulties in motivating schoolchildren to learn foreign languages for reasons other than simply memorizing for tests. Savage and Piontek raised such questions as how can teachers convince students to learn a second or third language so that they can use the acquired language in personal, business, and professional lives of the future. Also Savage and Piontek question testing methods. Which ones test a true learning of a language?

John Williamson and Frank Hardman presented their findings of the relation between nonstandard dialects and standard English in four regions in England. They found the influence of the nonstandard dialect strong in the spoken language. They also discussed ways of teaching the standard language so that it supplants the nonstandard deviations.

Lana White presented theoretical methods for using linguistic analysis of the English language to teach reading and writing. Linguists have devised a new grammar for the English language to replace the traditional grammar that had been borrowed from Latin studies in the 17th century. The linguistic grammar is divided into syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, graphology, and pragmatics. White suggested ways to implement these grammatical elements to help in the teaching of reading writing. She described reading and writing as thought processes and advocated the belief that a valid grammar is an analysis of the ways reading and writing make meaning. Grammar then is not a description superimposed on a language, but is instead a tracing of how meaning is made in passages. The writer connects morphemes, words, sentences, and paragraphs to create meaning The reader extracts the writer's meaning by having his thought processes follow the grammatical tracings of the writer. Only through grammar can the reader follow the writer's meaning.

In the final session of language awareness, Elisabeth Czykwin and Friedrich Kron discussed the importance of emotional intelligence as it affects cognition. Professor Kron explained that human intelligence has many dimensions. Together these dimensions create the self. Language may be the medium that integrates the dimensions to create a whole rather than a fragmented self.

Elisabeth Czykwin supported Professor Kron's beliefs. She focused on the Belorussian minority in Poland to express the need for an individual self to identify with the self's native cultural group. The cultural group must have a clear identity if if is to aid its individuals in becoming integrated selves. That identity comes basically from a mother tongue through which the individual learns counting, singing, joking and the correcting of children's behaviour. From the mother tongue, the individual should learn the fairy tales of the culture. These uses of the language of childhood help mold the identity of the child, an identity that is a reflection of the identity of the cultural group. Children seek to know who am I, and if schools teach young children in the other tongue, even if it is the tongue of a minority within a nation, the children will feel the necessary safety and control that come with the power of using the mother tongue. They will develop a stronger sense of identity.

After the language awareness sessions concluded, the participants were left with some dominant concepts coming from diverse cultures. One concept is that during childhood the teaching of language is basic to all other subjects. Another is that one's native language and the self appear to be symbiotic. A third is that language and thought are difficult if not impossible to separate, that the grammar of a language structures not only passages of reading but also the thoughts that make the passages meaningful to both writer and reader.

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David WestgateReport of the SKILLS group : Conference and Concluding Session

University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Anyone inclined to pre-judge this conference from its outline programme might have anticipated little solidarity from a 'skills' group, loosely held together by interest-labels such as 'oracy' or 'reading and writing' (even 'reading' and 'writing' alone in some time-slots). How wrong such a guess would have been. Perhaps due to happy circumstance, but certainly through happy contact, there emerged, by the final plenary session, a group which was bold enough not only to proclaim its common principles and purposes but even to reject the very label under which it had been working! An explanation of this phenomenon is evidently called for.

First the circumstance: airline (and perhaps other) difficulties having left the field a little depleted, contributors to a number of sessions spontaneously decided to join forces and present to each other. Thus on Thursday morning, for instance, Oracy and Language Awareness delegates were to be found in cheerful dialogue, exploring common ground as much as individual specialisms - from dialect forms in writing via linguistic grammar's power to unpick textual meaning, to (a bit later) the lovingly gathered graphic and written output of one creative four-year-old, and much else besides. When such coalescence did not occur, the reward was often nevertheless a small, quite intimate group which felt able to question and explore in considerable depth. The present writer recalls having his own and another delegate's tongue gently (and literally) tweaked by Bradley Tice in the name of 'physical linguistics' on one such occasion! On another, he was one of just three engaging the presenters of research findings about different views of oracy in Europe and sharing the impact which varying concepts of 'context' can have on policy. And, surely, Policy was supposed to be happening down the corridor under a banner all its own.

No wonder, then, that by Friday afternoon the 'skills' group more or less began their round-up discussion by asserting that they were about more than mere skills. They were, they said, about something much more holistic, contextualised and deeply human than just skills; something immensely differentiated, too. Pleasure was immediately expressed (and recalled) at the experience of having recently shared such differences across what might have seemed to be national, cultural and linguistic barriers. These were in fact, however, quite clearly and wonderfully permeable at the level of ideas, even if they were just as clearly more constrained for some at the level of national curricula. To focus once again upon the breadth of the concept of oracy (and to contrast that, for instance, with the limited formalities of 'lecturette'-style presentations as engagingly recounted from his childhood by Tony Adams), what a pleasure it was for the UK contingent, chafing under ever-narrowing official definitions of 'speaking and listening', to hear a Spaniard telling of teachers' genuine explorations of the spoken word in their teaching and in their students' learning; or of a Dutchman extolling the values of reading for pleasure; or of yet another Dutch teacher sharing a lifelong enthusiasm for the writing process as a way of leading his students into an appreciation of textual variety.

The question must, however, be faced: were there any consistent themes discernible in all this blooming abundance and variety? Other, that is, than the infinite variety of contextualised language itself?

Well, this writer made notes as others spoke and then attempted to translate those notes into a would-be coherent overhead transparency such as might be shared with others in the final moments of the conference. His efforts began, understandably enough in the light of this account, with the different dimensions and concepts of skills - if 'skills' they must be, that is. Next came the contrasting criteria of correctness and appropriateness underlying assessment, formal or otherwise. Issues concerning language standards and standard language, language variability and contextual repertoire, had figured frequently during presentations as well as in discussions; and that mixture of emotions had been felt which arose from the juxtaposition of our confidence in a professional understanding of appropriateness with more prejudiced (anyway less liberal) attitudes often to be discerned among the less informed but more powerful messengers of so-called accountability.

Interdependence came next, the holistic view of language skills as responding to human purposes and perceptions. It was seen as inextricably linked, too, with issues of motivation and self-esteem. Skill development grew powerfully out of feelings and values, and was not narrowly instrumental or unnaturally forced. Readers and writers, as much as talk-partners, needed to feel the rewards of real meaning exchange. In teaching as well as in less formal contexts, there was value to be placed upon the contributions of young, less experienced language users; often implicit knowledge, too, which could be built on if only 'heard' by the more experienced.

That theme led towards other stimuli for meaning-sharing, and in particular to explorations (eg in Canada) of contexts mediated or provoked by use of IT (or of ICT, Information and Communications Technology, as this writer is now convinced we should say). Enough has been included here already perhaps about policy and assessment, but that figured at this stage too, on a list which was to conclude with one of those slightly over-clever (but in this case, I am sure appropriate!) returns to the initial point. That is, the impact which the different concepts and dimensions of language skills (yes, our starting-point) exert in fact upon the very processes of teaching or of our images of what it means to be a teacher. We had been reminded, by a host of examples provided by so many of the delegates, that the most open-minded and professional forms of teaching involve exploration of the processes, including the linguistic processes, which lie at its heart. We had re-discovered the good old teacher-researcher (and not all so old, I hear you say).

These presentations, discussions and exchanges were of course our own contexts of use. I shall describe them finally by mis-quoting Lena White's delightful West Texan phrase (she used it as a mild apology, actually) and say with a fond memory of Amsterdam in July: 'Oh, heavenly days!'.

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Mary Kooy & Ken Watson Reflections on the Conference, Fiction strand

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto, Canada & Rozelle, Australia

• Enjoyed the conference immensely! Well organized and prepared.

• Appreciated the prompt attention to the details (e.g. e-mail responses to questions, the organization of the sessions)

• Program details well laid out

• Interesting variety of presentations

• The size of the conference (getting to know participants and make connections)

• Having representatives of a number of Eastern European countries added a marvellous dimension

• Poster sessions were exceptional - in the way they were set up, the content, the opportunity to have them intentionally and briefly introduced

• Provided an introduction to and expectation of future conferences

• This conference clearly laid the groundwork for continued conferences in MTE.

 

What should be kept in the conference?

• inclusion of a variety of languages/cultures

detailed program book/layout

• range of topics/streams

• range of sessions (workshops, symposia, round tables, posters)

 

Suggestion for next conference:

Begin each day with poster session to introduce the day's elaborated sessions. These proved to be very interesting and would provide participants with a clear knowledge of what will be most helpful to them. Perhaps each participant could prepare a "poster" on his/her session in preparation for this. May need to call this a "plenary session" to avoid people skipping this part of the conference.

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Regina Piontek, Personal reflections on the conference

Wissenschafliches Institut fur Schulpraxis

Bremen, Germany

First of all, I think the preparation was very,very good as well as the organisation. I liked the variety of the several parts ( workshops, symposia, round table sessions and poster sessions). In my opinion, it was a good way to get a survey and to work very concentrated on some subjects as well (although, in fact, during the conference the difference between roundtable and symposia was not so clear for me).

I think the format of sessions, the length etc. were ok. During the poster sessions the chairs really had to watch the time, but this is more a problem of the chairs. I like these sessions, because we could get many information.

As I had to leave before the end of the conference, I can't comment the thematic discussion. I liked this idea of this thematic discussions and I think, it is worthwhile to keep them for future conferences. This leads me to the questions, if it would make sense to have them not at the very end of the programme (Usually there are people who have to leave earlier ).

Concerning the themes and focuses: I think this conference was a very good example for integration of focuses which up to now are not often integrated: mother tongue - second language - foreign language. It even might have been a sort of pilot conference because of this.

In the sessions or workshops where I was, there was a real exchange between the different "sort" of language teachers. In my point of view as well as for language teaching as for teaching literature it is very important to involve foreign/second language teachers and mother tongue teachers in a common process. So perhaps for future conferences this idea may be kept (I will try to transfer it to the conferences of our institute).

I enjoyed the diversity of delegates and their contributions to the conference. I was very happy too, with the social events (dinner and boat tour)- thanks again.

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International Association for the Improvement of Mother Tongue Education

The Learning and Teaching of Language and Literature