Special Guest: Divya Madhavan

DivyaDivya Madhavan has taught in various cultural and educational contexts. She is an EAP Lecturer at Ecole Centrale Paris and is doing a Doctorate in Education at the University of Exeter. Teaching is something that has resonated with her for as long as she can remember. Divya’s main research interest is the practitioner voice in education.

Interview with Divya Madhavan 

D.M. – Divya Madhavan

A.C. – Alexandra Chistyakova

A.C. : Hello Divya! Let me first thank you for your inspirational and practical presentation at iSTEK this April! I enjoyed it a lot and borrowed a lot of useful and stimulating ideas from it! Thank you for sharing them with us!

Divya, your presentation title was “Understanding Learner Perceptions Through Action Research.” Could you please explain what Action Research is?

D.M. : Research is, for me, a method of finding out more about something in a way that is systematic and meaningful. We find out more by reflecting on it, comparing it to neighbouring ideas and then gathering and presenting these thoughts in an intellectually responsible and respectful way.

Action Research is a little special because its goal isn’t just to find out more or describe or analyse something, its goal is to change that something but to approach this change from, again, a systematic and meaningful way.

A.C. : At your presentation you said that “Research is not the intellectual property of academics.” Why do you think practitioners might need to do their own action research and how can they benefit from it?

D.M. :  The reason I made that comment (I’ve written more about this here) was because I see practitioners feeling excluded from the formalized side to academic discourse and practice, just like I see conference organizers within ELT openly saying that they don’t want theoretical or academic presentations at their events.

I feel that this ‘us and them’ mentality could do with a reset from the inside (i.e. the teachers and the classrooms) because there’s no valid reason in my opinion for either side rejecting the other, it’s just a matter of learning the rules to each other’s discourse.

A.C. : Divya, what was your first action research? What situation in or outside your classroom made you realize you need it? What experience did you gain as the result of your research?

D.M. : The first Action Research project I did was in 2004 for my Masters. I was struggling with a classroom that had got off to a clumsy start, and I felt like I needed to change something in my practice but I wasn’t very clear as to what, which is where the idea of documenting it and listening to the process step by step came. It helped me calm down and not try and solve everything at once. It also helped me take a step back from trying this or that tool when what I needed for my confidence as a teacher was a wider perspective.

I learnt and then read a lot about the complexities of classroom (and human) dynamics. It didn’t magically get everything under control but some of the changes I made did impact my practice positively. More importantly I discovered how much I enjoyed stepping outside my immediate personal response to the situation and working with data and drawing upon theory to inform my practice.

A.C. : What are the researchable problems in classroom? Could you give a couple of examples, please?

D.M. : I think we need to step back from thinking of it in terms of problems. A lot of people describe Action Research in problem-solving terms and I feel this is very limiting because it implies that something has to go wrong in order to want to change the way you do things, and so sometimes we change the way we do things just because we grow as teachers.

How to identify what is action researchable? Well I’d say think about change and think about what you’d like to change and then start working through how you’d like to change it.

A.C. : Could you please explain what the concept of problematization is?

D.M. : Sure, just like I wouldn’t recommend thinking about Action Research as a problem-solving mode of practice, I think it’s also important to understand why we need to problematize something. The purpose of probelmatizing something is to create the necessary mental framework within which to analyse it. It’s not quite as linear as describing a problem in detail. It involves some reading, some thinking, some stepping back and taking some responsibility in how we talk about it.

For me this ‘responsibility’ is what the essence of an academic voice is and this is also what is often perceived and the overly formal side to academia. A responsible voice is one that takes into account the different elements of a situation and speaks with an awareness of these different elements, away from judgements and uninformed or misinformed generalizations. It’s easy to get lost in (and with) formal language when one does this but I really believe in its larger purpose.

A.C. : What further practical literature on action research would you recommend?

D.M. : To be honest, rather than a book, I think Anne Burns’ website is the best place to start (professoranneburns.com) she’s a wonderful academic and her website has lots of videos and further references.

A.C. : How can reflective thinking on teaching help teachers to develop professionally and improve their teaching? Isn’t it a bit too abstract and time-consuming? Wouldn’t it better to learn and polish some practical teaching techniques?

D.M. : I think this really depends on your personality as a teacher and what you’re interested in and how you’re interested in developing professionally. I really don’t think that everyone needs to engage on reflective practice or action research. I think if it’s right for you it’ll feel meaningful and if it doesn’t feel meaningful, something else will be right for you.

As for ‘abstract’ and ‘time consuming’, I think doing anything that doesn’t resonate with what you’re like as a professional would be like that. For example, I find working with course books very abstract and time consuming and avoid them as much as I can. It’s often too much of a struggle for me to link them in a meaningful way to the people in the room. It’s not at all because course books are an inefficient teaching tool but because they just don’t quite suit my personality as a teacher or context I teach in.

A.C. : What do you like most about teaching?

D.M. : That you never really give the same lesson twice.

A.C. : Divya, thank you so much for your answers and the time you spent on them! I’m looking forward to hearing about your new research results and your other projects too! Thank you!

D.M. : Thank you so much for getting in touch Sasha, I’m currently involved in research on English as a Medium of Instruction in Higher Education and will be participating in a policy working group organised by the British Council in Spain in November. I’ll be doing an early morning session on ‘How to reflect on research talks at the conference’ at IATEFL.


Special Guest: Adam Simpson

AdamSimpsonTime flies by breath-takingly fast, and iSTEK seems to be ages ago. Since that time lots of things have happened: good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. But to get back the incredible spirit of iSTEK event, take some time to read the interview with Adam Simpson, the presenter and the Social Media Team member at iSTEK and iTDi Mentor. Adam shares his ideas on ELT conferences, teaching techniques, blogging, CPD and challenges a native speaker can face when embarking on an English teacher career. 

Interview with Adam Simpson

A.C. – Alexandra Chistyakova

A.S. – Adam Simpson


Hello Adam! Let me start by saying that I was really happy to meet you at iSTEK in April!

Adam, what did you like most of all about iSTEK-2013? What was the most memorable experience? What useful ideas did you borrow during this conference?


iSTEK is such a big event, but the thing it does so well is bring people together from all over the World and allow them to exchange ideas. For me, the most important part of any conference is getting to meet people who share my passion for what we do. Although I’ve become a big fan of online conferences recently, and have been involved in a couple this year, I still don’t think you can beat the feeling of physically being there. Being a ‘conference regular’ I kind of know the people I really want to see present now, but there were a couple of people whose talks really stood, namely Sugata Mitra and Jan Blake.


You were a Social Media Team member at iSTEK. What were your duties? What was the most successful achievement of the Social Media Team? What do you think could be done better or differently next time?


Over the past couple of years I’ve been quite heavily involved in the social media aspect of a number of conferences, which is something I really enjoy. This has meant trying to balance my role as presenter / attendee with additional work writing about sessions and interviewing the keynote speakers about their thoughts on the event. The work for this event began before iSTEK, though, with a blog in which we interviewed many of the presenters and this really helped attendees to learn about the various presentations that were going on. As a team, we tried a few new things this time, such as the live-streaming of the tweets about the conference; I think we need to sit down together and reflect on how it all went!


iSTEK-2013 was a really busy conference for you: in addition to working for Social Media Team, you were also making a presentation together with Deniz Ozden Rodrigues. How did you manage to do both things?


I’d say to anyone who is presenting as well as taking on another role in an event such as this to… plan well in advance! Those of us who present at conferences can tell you that, whatever you’re doing or whoever you’re seeing, your attention is taken up by your own talk right up until you’ve finished giving it. If you’ve taken on an additional responsibility, it will be hard for you to switch into ‘presenter mode’ at just the right time, so think carefully and make sure that your session is well-planned a long time in advance if you can.


The title of your presentation was “Seeing Adjectives Through the Eyes Of Learners.” So, how do learners see adjectives? What is learners’ general attitude to them? Why do you call adjectives “dangerous beasts”? Why do adjectives present a considerable difficulty to language learners?


So much language teaching is still based around the grammar of verb tenses. Too often, adjectives are viewed as a poor relation and only receive attention when they can be forced into some kind of teachable grammatical pattern, such as –ed or –ing adjectives. This perpetuates the belief in learners that they are less important and that they can get by with a small base of adjectives to work from and that this is OK as long as they get the grammar right. I’m not suggesting that adjectives are ever completely ignored, just that they only receive adequate attention when they can be grammaticised, which is a real shame.


What, in your opinion, are the most effective techniques of learning adjectives?


I’d apply the same advice that I give to learning vocabulary in general, which is to adopt a variety of techniques to learn and retain new adjectives. This is where our job as teachers is important. We should introduce various techniques for recording vocabulary in our classes and get feedback on which ones learners feel are useful and effective for them.


Could you please share a couple of techniques to help learners start using adjectives? Which techniques worked best for you?


I don’t see a problem with any technique so long as a learner finds it effective. While many would doubt that a word list is a productive way of learning adjectives, these have their benefits if/when used in conjunction with other techniques. The best thing I could suggest for teachers looking for ways to develop their vocabulary teaching is to read the excellent ‘Vocabulary Myths’ by Keith Folse. This book is seven or eight years old now, but it really is a terrific read. For a few quick ideas, you can read this blog post I wrote about teaching adjectives.



Adam, you keep a blog. What do you usually write about there?


Despite my best efforts, my blog has actually been quite successful. What I mean by this is that, unlike the blogs I like to read, I don’t have a theme around which I constantly write. I tend to post about whatever comes to mind, so if you visit you end up with something different every time. If you’re a blogger, or thinking of starting a blog, this isn’t a format I’d suggest! Find a theme or a topic that you’re familiar with and stick to it.


When did you start blogging? What actually made you start your own blog? What is in it for you?


Although I first started blogging in early 2007 (a blog about music which I sadly no longer maintain), I didn’t start blogging about my profession until 2009. I started  my current blog – originally entitled ‘A year in the life of an English teacher’ but subsequently renamed and relocated to ‘Teach them Englishhttp://www.teachthemenglish.com – with the hope that it would serve as a reflective tool for me to think about my own teaching practices and get feedback on what I was doing from others. I think I’ve been successful in that mission as my teaching has improved since I initiated blogging. I find that I have a better relationship with my learners now – many read my blog – and put a lot more thought into what I do in class. Since starting blogging I’ve twice received awards for outstanding teaching from my university, as well as awards for my blogging, so it must have had some effect!


There is a growing number of teachers around the world who keep blogs. Don’t you think that there is a danger that no one will read them? What potential does blogging have for teachers’ professional development? Is it useful and efficient after all?


There definitely is a danger if all you do is write. Blogging can be a lonely experience when you post something new and get no response from the ELT community. The best way to get over this is to visit as many other teacher blogs as you can and comment on what they have written. You’ll find that many will start to reciprocate and you’ll feel more like a member of the blogging community.


Adam, you’ve been teaching English for a more than a decade. Why did you start teaching? What was the biggest challenge for you as an English teacher? What helped you to develop professionally? What do you like the most about teaching?


Thanks for reminding me how long I’ve been doing this! I actually became a teacher for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to live in Turkey and it proved very difficult / impossible to get a job in my field. Secondly, I wanted to overcome my shyness in front of people and thought that becoming a teacher would be a good way to do this. A big challenge early on was learning English, by which I mean having a good working knowledge of the way English works: I’m sure there’s many a native speaker who feels my pain. Nevertheless, I stuck with it and found this profession to be really enjoyable, particularly after doing the Cambridge DELTA course back in 2004. Since then I’ve viewed continuous professional development as a must, hence my presence at conferences among other things. As far as teaching goes, I just like helping young people achieve their goals.


Are you currently working on any projects in the ELT/EFL field? If yes, could you tell us a bit about them?


I’m working on one or two exciting things, but nothing I can mention here! You’ll have to check back on my blog soon for more details, OK?


Surely, I will! 🙂

Adam, thank you very much for taking your time and answering my questions!

Special Guest: Vicky Loras

What It Means to Be a Roving Reporter

Vicky Loras

Vicky Loras is an English Teacher, born in the beautiful city of Toronto, Canada.

She has been teaching English as a foreign language and literature to students of all ages, for a total of over fifteen years. Vicky now lives in Switzerland. She is the co-founder and owner of The Loras English Network, a school Vicky has opened with her sister Eugenia. They teach English, train teachers and also hold children’s events.

A.C.: Hello Vicky! Thank you for taking your time to answer my questions.

V.L.: Hi Alexandra! Many thanks for having me.

A.C.: Vicky, how many times have you reported for an ELT conference?

V.L.: I have been a roving reporter twice so far, once at Yildiz University, at the Wired In or Out Conference and the second time was at TESOL Greece two weeks ago.

A.C.:  When was the first time you reported at a conference? What were your responsibilities? How did you feel about it?

V.L.: The first time at Yildiz University, I was asked by the lovely Isil Boy who organized the conference to be roving reporter. I was mainly responsible for the blog and reporting all the sessions, which was very interesting as I could attend as many sessions as possible and took notes during the sessions, then weaving them into blog posts and publishing right away on the blog. It was so exciting and it brought immediacy to the conference, as the people who were not there could have an instant picture of what was happening. The feedback we got later was very positive, both about the conference which was impeccably organized and about the blog.

A.C.: What are the usual roving reporter’s duties?

V.L.: It depends, but usually the roving reporter interviews the speakers and delegates too sometimes (which is also very important), blogs about the conference and uses social media to transmit short messages about the conference.

A.C.: What do you like most about being a roving reporter?

V.L.: I enjoy all aspects of it! I love interviewing the speakers and delegates – the speakers so I can hear about how they got the idea for their talks, what they will talk about (because the roving reporter may not have the opportunity to watch all the sessions they want to) – and the delegates, because you can see the enthusiasm they share to go to sessions, what they pay attention to and so on. I also love engaging in social media to give the conference to those who could not attend in person, but it also gives liveliness to the conference! Very often I cannot go to a conference and the roving reporters do such a great job with social media, that you feel as if you are there!

A.C.: Is there anything that you don’t like about being a roving reporter?

V.L.: Perhaps one thing – that sometimes I do not have the opportunity to interview every single speaker!

A.C.: What is the most challenging reporter’s duty?

V.L.: Trying to interview as many people as possible, trying not to ask the same questions all the time and engaging in social media at the same time – but the challenges are also the interesting part, because you can see what you can do, what you can do better next time and what you can do again next time that worked.

A.C.: What is your most memorable event you reported on? What made it so memorable?

V.L.: Hmmm, I can’t really say which one – they have only been two so far, and honestly they were both amazing experiences. I had the chance to speak to wonderful people and professionals and got a lot of feedback from the people reading, that they enjoyed the blogs and interviews.

A.C.: What was special about reporting at TESOL Greece this year?

V.L.: I loved doing it, as it was a very well-organised conference by Dimitris Primalis, TESOL Chair for 2012-2013, and his team. In the months before we had a great communication about the event, with amazing ideas coming into play. The conference itself was amazing, because I could interview people that I had wanted to speak to for a long time about their work.

A.C.: How do you get ready for a conference where you’re reporting?

V.L.: I read a lot beforehand about the presenters and their work, not only about the session they will present but also their careers in general – for instance, articles or books they have written, their blogs if they do have one, I watch videos of them – anything that can help me create as much a well-rounded picture of them as possible.

A.C.: How is your preparation for iSTEK going?

V.L.: I am very excited about it, as it is my first iSTEK Conference and I have heard the best things about it! I am trying to read about everything and everyone as much as possible. I believe it will be yet another amazing event.

A.C.: What recommendations can you give to novice roving reporters like me?

V.L.: Well, I am not that experienced either, but as with everything I suppose, the more we do of it, the more we learn. It is an experience that is absolutely worth it!

A.C.: Vicky, it’s been such a pleasure to interview you and learn from you! Thank you so much!

V.L.: Me too, Alexandra! Thank you so much and I look forward to seeing you soon.

A.C. – Alexandra Chistyakova

V.L. – Vicky Loras

Işıl Boy: Interview

Isil BoyThe interview with Işıl Boy, the Teacher Trainer at Pilgrims, ICT Coordinator @YTU, MA EdTech & TESOL St. (University of Manchester), IATET representative for Turkey, iTDi Associate and organiser of the 1st International Wired In or Out Symposium

1. How did the idea of an International Symposium come to you?

Contrary to what most people think, this symposium on web technologies was not my idea. Our Vice-Director, Ayşegül Kıvanç, came up with this idea and was willing to organize something different. First, we thought it could be a one-day symposium. However, since there were many speakers I wanted to invite, we ended up organizing a two-day event. At the same time, we had no budget. So, I couldn’t invite them at all. Hence, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all the speakers and sponsors who made this event happen.

2. What does the conference name “Wired In or Out” mean?

It came from my dear colleague, Filiz Diskaya; she was inspired by the movie “Facebook” and we all loved the idea.

3. In what cases can the use of technology, such as various ICT tools, be counterproductive and, perhaps, time consuming?

Integrating technology into the classroom needs careful planning. If there is no overall objective, and without on-going training, it can become counterproductive; even a burden. It is not enough to know how to use a web tool or an app; in fact, that is the easiest part. We need to consider whether our objective is technology-centered (the focus is on the capabilities of cutting edge technology) or learner-centered (the focus is on the way that people learn and process information).


So, the web tools we are planning to use need to be in line with the objectives. Then, we should make sure that every student knows how to use that tool. We cannot simply assume that every student in our classroom is tech-savvy. We also need to share our objectives with our students, and set some rules. Otherwise, students will think that they are just playing games on the computer. Indeed, we should help our students to see computers, or tablets, as educational tools rather than toys or machines for playing games .

Some institutions tend to believe that it is enough to install hardware in the classroom and ‘dip’ teachers into brief training workshops, but it doesn’t work. (Hoffman, 1996) Here, there comes a need for the investigation of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) which intends to determine the nature of information demanded by teachers who are integrating technology into their teaching. TPACK framework has three main focus: content, pedagogy and technology; it suggest blending technology knowledge with pedagogy and content knowledge in order to achieve effective technology integration. (Mathew Koehler and Punya Mishra, 2006).

4. Can you please give an example of a successful use of technology in your classroom?

I have been using pbworks wikis for three years now and I have experienced several benefits. The main reasons why I chose to explore wikis are because they encourage transparent learning, promote learner autonomy, develop digital literacy, stimulate collaborative learning and foster motivation. Wikis are also one of the most popular asynchronous tools for writing practice. Smith, Alvarez-Torres & Zhao (2003:706) hold the view that asynchronous communication gives more time to work on a reply; hence promotes more in-depth understanding of the

information along with more thoughtful responses. Wikis also serve an important role to develop educational courseware; hence teachers will also be able to develop their courseware to collect their web-based and mobile learning materials. I have also developed courseware on wikis:http://blogging.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/mewxjib4. My objectives in designing this courseware were to show teachers how to use wikis in depth, to introduce some examples on wikis for classroom use, to show them some tools and apps which they can use on wikis, to help them test themselves on what and how much they have learned, and to encourage them to start using wikis. My foremost aim, while designing and developing this courseware, was to make it engaging so that teacher would be willing to use wikis with their students.

5. What’s your favorite application at the moment? Why?

I must say that I am an avid iPad user and my favorite application is Zite which is a free personalized magazine that automatically learns what you like and gets smarter every time you use it.

6. Isil, the First International Symposium has been a major success. What is next on your to-do list?

My course on “Using Mobile Technology” and my dissertation on mobile learning, and the use of iPads in teaching. I am pretty excited about my new mLearning course, and I am going to run it both at Pilgrims in Canterbury, in Istanbul and in Izmir. I have already explored teachers’ beliefs about the use of iPads in teaching for my MA assignment, and I am going to focus on the same topic for my dissertation. I am also planning to organize another conference but this time it will be totally different.

Symposium blog:http://yildizunieltsymposium12.wordpress.com (A special thanks to our roving reporter, Vicky Loras, and our British Council interviewer, Rakesh Bhanot).

Symposium hashtag: #ytuelt


 Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge:

A framework for integrating technology in teachers’ knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

 Smith, B., Alvarez-Torres, M. J. & Zhao, Y. (2003). Features of CMC technologies and their impact on language learners’ online interaction. Computers in Human Behavior. 19(6), 703-729

Hoffman, B. (1996): What Drives Successful Technology Planning, Journal ofInformation Technology for Teacher Education.

If you would like to ask Isil Boy any questions concerning her interview, you can leave your questions in the comments below. We will do our best to get in touch with Isil as soon as possible and post her answers to your questions in reply to your comment.

Cecilia Lemos: Interview

Watch the interview with Cecilia Lemos, EFL Teacher, Recife, Brazil

The interview was recorded at Wired In or Out Symposium, at Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey, on Dec 1, 2012

Below you can read the transcript of the interview.

Interview with Cecilia Lemos

C – Cecilia Lemos

A – Alexandra Chistyakova, iTDi roving reporter

A: Hello Cecilia!
C: Hello!
A: Thank you for your presentation! It was a very nice one and a very calming for those teachers who are struggling with technology. Thank you very much indeed!
C: I’m glad you’re saying that. That was the intention to make sure that teachers know it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and you don’t have to.
A: Ok, you’ve been teaching for quite a long time, so how has teaching changed over these years?
C: Well, it has changed a lot because the students have changed. Students are learning in a different way now. Everything’s much faster nowadays. Teachers have to adapt faster. Materials have changed, the way they are available has changed too. The time students have to devote to English has changed. And the requirements for them, you know, how well students have to speak and how fast they have to learn, for example, has also changed.
A: Well, how has technology influenced your teaching?
C: The biggest influence of technology on my life has been making me able to connect with people from all over the world, and share, and learn from them. This has changed my teaching. And just being here, for example, happened because of technology.
A: What is the best thing for you about teaching?
C: The best thing for me about teaching is this: being in a classroom, or being in a session and interacting with and listening to other teachers, like a teacher in my session just said. I asked her if it is worth it to go into a problem to do something, and she said that if one student learns it’s worth it for me. That’s what teaching is for me.
A: What would you say to those teachers who’re still skeptical or doubtful about using technology in the classroom?
C: I’d say don’t ditch something; don’t refuse something before you actually give it a proper chance. Try it, experiment, don’t be afraid to risk it and you’ll find your own way of using technology in your classroom.
A: How can technology help teachers to develop?
C: Interacting. Build a community, build your PLN, interact with other people, participate in webinars or online conferences if you can’t be in person. Watch sessions; watch videos and discuss them; read blogs, and participate in discussions on forums.
A: How does iTDi serve this purpose?
C: iTDi promotes a lot of webinars and their online courses. And teachers can improve both teaching and language at iTDi. You know, iTDi is a community of English teachers from all other the world. So you can interact with all those teachers and teachers like you who want to learn and improve.
A: Thank you very much indeed!
C: Thank you!

If you would like to ask Cecilia Lemos any questions concerning her interview or presentation at Wire In or Out Symposium, you can leave your questions in the comments below. We will do our best to get in touch with Cecilia as soon as possible and post her answers to your questions in reply to your comment.