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Think Tank

Our thanks to all who helped make the Think Tank Live event a success at the JALT Conference. For those who couldn't make it, we hope to have everyone's stories on the site later this month. In the meantime, here's a photo and the pre-conference summaries that the panelits provided.


This month's Think Tank is actually more of a preview of the ELT News Think Tank Live event (see here for more info) at the JALT National Conference, held at Granship in Shizuoka, from October 7-10. Our five panelists have written brief summaries of what they are going to talk about at the event - without giving too much away!

The panel is made up of the three conference plenary speakers, Jennifer Bassett, David Nunan, and Kumiko Torikai, as well as regular panelists Curtis Kelly and Chuck Sandy. It will be moderated by president and former ELT News editor Russell Willis. In keeping with this year's conference theme of "Sharing Our Stories," panel members will share teaching related stories, which will then lead into a panel discussion.

The Think Tank Live Panel

Russell Willis

October 2005

Topic: ELT News Think Tank Live at JALT2005 - Preview

Jennifer Bassett

As the theme of the panel discussion at Shizuoka will be sharing teaching-related stories, I think I should begin with a confession. I am no longer a teacher! So I wondered whether I should talk about my past as a teacher, or my transition from ELT teacher to ELT writer, and finally to ELT storyteller. In the end I settled for the storyteller angle, because although I am not in classrooms any more, I am still communicating with learners via the pages of a book, trying to engage and entertain them with the stories I write. And how did I learn to be a storyteller? Well, I had the best possible teachers in the world, from Austen to Asimov, Dickens to Dostoevsky, Maupassant to Murakami, J.R.R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling. If you want to be a writer, read, and read omnivorously. And are there things that ELT storytellers in particular need to learn? Well, I have written a little short story about it ... but I am saving it for the Think Tank Live event.

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David Nunan

As teachers, we lead very busy lives. There is often insufficient time to find out what our learners think and feel about language learning, to uncover what motivates them to attend our classes (or to stay away!), and to find out how they feel about the learning experiences that we create for them. We rush from class to class, often unaware of the attitudes and motivations of our learners, and the ways in which the pressures they have in their own lives have a significant impact on their ability to benefit from what we have to offer in class.

In this think tank, I would like to discuss the benefits of collecting learners' stories, that is, learners' own accounts of their language learning experiences, and the ways in which language learning fits into their lives. These stories can greatly enrich our professional lives as well as providing important insights into the processes underlying language learning. In order to collect stories that can inform our teaching, however, we need to build up our students' trust and confidence, and we need to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. This takes time and effort. In my experience, the investment in time and effort can be extremely rewarding.

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Kumiko Torikai

The story I am going to tell at Think Tank Live would be decided on the spot from among the three stories I have. One is about the identity of students, a buzz word nowadays; another about motivation, a fovorite topic for all language teachers; and about the silence of Japanese students, a pet subject among teachers teaching in Japan. If you have any preference among the three, please let me know.

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Curtis Kelly

"Make a few rules and then be consistent in enforcing them," I was told, "or else the students will think you are unfair, or take advantage of you." This is a basic rule of classroom management, and it makes sense. A rule is not something you can require of one student and not of the next. We need standardization and consistency in the classroom. It is a matter of integrity.

My story is about how I lost my integrity...

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Chuck Sandy

Some of the most profound moments in a teacher’s life occur so quietly they could pass by without notice if one does not pay close attention. One such moment occurred not too long ago when I walked into my classroom to find all of my students already engaged in work on the project they were doing at the time. Except for greeting me, no one paid me much mind. I was no one’s center of attention. The work was everyone’s focus. Although this might not seem like much of a story, it was years in the making as I moved from holding forth in a teacher-centered classroom to becoming a co-learner in and a facilitator of an activities-centered classroom.

These days my students are mostly involved in doing project work that requires them to pull together a variety of skills in order to create something that is uniquely their own within parameters we often set together. My primary roles before classes start are planning, organizing, and gathering resources together. Then, once classes begin, I set things up, provide possible models, and step-by-step turn the class over to the students so they can get on with the work at hand. Once this happens it then becomes impossible to predict with any accuracy what questions, problems, or needs might come up. In a single class I might be helping one person work out a grammar issue, talking with a small group about alternative ways of organizing information, or discussing an issue that someone would like to share with the class. Then, I might be asked a question about pronunciation or vocabulary. Someone might need help conducting a web-search. Another might call me over to tell me about a part-time job or a new car or a broken heart. As I circulate around the room, I never know what will be asked of me or what shape a class will ultimately take until I’m in it along with everybody else. I’ve come to love this unpredictability and my away-from-the-center classroom stance. It’s this that makes each class a story of its own, a narrative that remains unknown until we all work to weave it together.

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