The ETA-ROC Symposium and Book Fair on English Teaching

I have to say, I was a bit disappointed after attending this conference over the weekend. Not so much by the presentations - some were boring and some were fantastic - but the greatest disappointment was not in the presentations, the vendors, nor the food (especially in following the rule of thumb: always go vegetarian where lunch boxes are concerned), but the genuine lack of interest by foreigners. In every session I attended, excepting those with Stephen Krashen’s name on them, I could count the number of foreigners on one hand…and sometimes, if I included myself, on one finger.

With the number of foreigners, even just on forumosa, who are discussing how they wish to improve and become better teachers and those who talk about how much we need an association where English teachers can share ideas, why, why, why were there not more of them at this symposium? You all do realize the letters ETA stand for “English Teacher’s Association”, right?

I am honestly baffled by sheer lack of foreign teachers at the symposium this weekend and feeling a bit cynical about how genuine people are about wanting to be better teachers.

I suppose the answer I am seeking is this:

If a local organization puts on a conference for a fairly low price (pre-registration was $1200 for new members and $1500 at the door for 3 days of in-service and a membership to the ETA-ROC), how could those who complain about the lack of organizations and think-tanks and professional development workshops not jump on the opportunity?

Have you had bad experiences in the past? Was the distance needed to travel to Shihlin (Chientan station, people…Shihlin Night Market area) too much? Was the cost too much (the equivalent to the entry fee for Plush for a Friday and Saturday night)? Were you merely a part of the irony that a conference on teaching English was far more attended by non-native speakers than by the great elite foreign native speakers, on a scale of probably 50 to 1 or greater?

What gives?

Considering the cost, ETA-ROC is not a good value conference. There are numerous other conferences held at universities throughout the island that provide a more informative forum for researchers. Aside from the keynote speeches, most of the speakers are in fact the same people speaking about the same things.

Applying to speak at the conference involves actually sending items physically to the organizers. This is the only academic event in the world I have heard of still using this method.

Incidentally, ImaniOU, aside from information about new teaching materials, what would a teacher at a commercia language school be expected to learn by attending ETA-ROC? What benefits would membership in ETA-ROC bring to them?

Well, ImaniOU, I sometimes feel the same about research evidence. Why aren’t more teachers reading studies conducted in real classrooms with real students, using control groups and the works? Plenty of such studies exist. Or if this is too daunting there are lots of good books, including some available in Caves, which summarise, analyse and compare the methods and results of the research.

I think that part of the answer may be that a lot of teachers are very practical. They distrust anything that smacks of abstract “theory”. They trust the evidence of their own eyes only and believe that academic research is conducted by people who have never stepped into a classroom. Perhaps if they were to realise that this is not the case and that such research is subject to the same standards, controls and critical mechanism as any other practical psychological/social science research they might be more enthusiastic.

Like attending conferences and training workshops, it is a way to get external, wider and often more objective viewpoints on our own teaching experience. This has to be a good thing.

Imaniou,

I’ll tell you from my perspective. I attended the ETA-ROC for the last three years. I decided to forego it this year for several reasons:

a) Looking at the schedule, it looked to be the same speakers with the same topics as last year. I learned the first year or two that most of the Taiwanese “research” is absolute rubbish; something that they wrote up in about 15 minutes, or had their class do one day. It makes little sense, has a lot of cool looking numbers and charts that really don’t say much, and has little if any conclusions and applications. Therefore, I aim mostly for the international speakers, and it looked to me as if I had already heard those same ones talk about the same things as last year. In general, I think the same ground gets covered way too much at these conferences. If I sit one more time through a presentation on CALL where the presenter begins with “What is the Internet?” and “What is CALL?” I think I will scream. We know this stuff for god’s sakes. Can’t anyone go beyond that, and show us actual examples and ideas for how to use technology in the classroom to really improve the quality of our classes? That’s the hard part, IMHO.

b) What I am most interested in as a teacher is things that directly apply to my classroom, and that can help me improve my teaching for my students. I’ve attended many conferences here in Taiwan which are indeed extremely abstract and theoretical, giving little practical help and application. This may be a general complaint for most of these confereences worldwide; however, I find the quality particularly bad here in Taiwan. This is an example of a Taiwanese presentation: “I conducted research with a group of 35 college freshmen. I gave them a pre-test to test their knowledge of 15 vocabulary items. Then I had them read a paragraph which included the vocabulary items. Then, I gave them a post-test to see if they had improved. (Here folllows a couple of pages with charts and graphs showing pre-scores, age, height, and weight of students, time it took them to take the test, classroom number, and any other completely irrelevant data to fill up the page with numbers.) And guess what? Their performance improved by 30.67578%! Conclusion: reading improves vocabulary!” :loco:

I realize I’m exaggerating, but not by much.

In general, I’m not convinced research of a quantitative, scientific nature really helps us with English teaching. Thoughts, anyone? Personally, I’d rather have someone show me 5 new ideas, projects, or activities they used recently in their class that they feel is worth sharing, and just tell me how they worked with their student population. The presentation that I found most helpful last year was the one by Brian David Phillips (I’m not sure I have his name correct, but he is the hypnotist guy in Taipei.) He had us actually try a roleplaying activity that he uses with his classes, and gave a few tips on positivies, negatives, and suggestions on how to use it. Much more helpful, IMHO, then 10 of those research/theory type presentations. I’m not saying these are 100% bad. For example, Paul Nation’s research on how much vocabulary your students should know for extensive reading (95%) is very helpful to keep in mind when teaching. (And it gets re-used and repeated by many presenters). Most of these conferences, however, do nothing to help us bridge the huge gap between the factual research and how to actually apply that on a day to day basis in the classroom.This is what I want more of, and what I would prefer to share in presentations/discussions. However, neither ETA-ROC, TESOL, or any other conference widely encourages this. Everyone is too worried about looking “academic.” Anyone else think so? Fire away!

I didn’t even know about it. :frowning:

I attended an ACTFL conference in the US in my last year at university. I heard some interesting discussion and learned a few things, but nothing I can’t really get by reading people’s publications. At least, if they bother to put it online.

I have been let down by it in the past couple of years, and since I didn’t have a presentation to give, I passed.

So Krashen was there? He rocks!

I’m going to break my Forumosa silence to say folks need to pay close attention to what Imaniou is saying.

A good percentage of presentations at EVERY conference AROUND THE WORLD are abstract and theoretical. True. However, a number of presenters do make an attempt to make the content of their talks practical and of immediate value to teachers. They incorporate or “translate” the work of excellent researchers such as Nation, Day, Read, etc. into hands-on, practical classroom tips.

Furthermore, a conference is not only about the presentations. It is a chance to review the latest materials shown by publishers in the book exhibition. It is also a chance to meet like-minded professionals with whom you can interact and share ideas. And it shows your commitment to ongoing professional development.

I am always deeply impressed by the dedication and commitment of Taiwanese teachers. Thousands of them attend the ETA conference every year. I am honored and delighted to personally interact with dozens of excellent teachers at every conference.

I agree with Imaniou that foreign teachers, who make double or triple the salary of Taiwanese teachers, should participate more actively in professional development conferences. To be fair, several dozen (50-75?) foreign teachers were in attendance this year, and I enjoyed speaking with them as well.

ImaniOU, if you would let people know BEFORE the next conference, perhaps more people would go… :wink:

It is ironic that you say that the foreign teachers who were there only went to events with Krashen’s name on. It is ironic because Krashen is a campaigner against “expensive imported teachers” in favour of increased spending on books. I am not sure to what extent Krashen is a “details person” and I think that if he were more aware of the situation on the ground he would see that there is still a lot of benefit to be had from having both native speakers and locals teaching (not forgetting that some locals are native English speakers, of course.)

On the general topic of the value of research evidence, I’m looking at a list of articles I’ve read recently and they’re ALL very relevant to actual classroom teaching.

The way I look at it is this: all teachers, at least all those who take any kind of pride in their work, have a theory of SLA. Now those theories are not always articulated or coherently thought out, but they’re theories none the less. If someone thinks: “I’ll get the students to repeat the same phrase 100 times and then they’ll get it,” that’s still a theory.

Now theories are only of any use if they are based on evidence. This goes for all theories whether held by pure academics or by classroom teachers. The evidence of our own eyes is of course very important but so is objective classroom research. We all have a theory and if we can develop our theories in the light of research evidence our teaching practice can become more effective.

As for the practical aspect of the conference, I am already applying something I learned in a workshop to my 2nd grade students in phonemic decoding and spelling. I attended a publication session for an intervention reading program which seems better geared for the students in my school (this after having taught preschool/kindergarten ESL and reading intervention and grades 1, 2, 4, and 5 at my school over 5 school years, and the rest during various summer camp programs so I have a pretty good idea, probably better than anyone in the school). The principal of my school is going to share the brochure and information with the school director to see what she thinks as we are looking for a new language arts program for our school. In other words, the entire curriculum of our preK to grade 6 language arts program may improve, simply because of my attending the ETA-ROC conference.

I received some free sample textbooks to see what is out on the market and listen to how the materials can be exploited in the classroom. I also picked up some rare Scholastic titles, or at least ones I have yet to see in the usual bookstores here in Taiwan or even through their teaching resource offerings through their book club, all with a generous discount for being a part of the convention.

I would hardly call that a waste of time.

Now that my question is in the process of being answered, I want to ask, not just why weren’t there more forumosans there, but why weren’t there more presenting as well? I really believe there are a few of us on here who have some great strategies for English learning and teaching…I’ll give you some examples of the things being taught in some of the workshops I attended (or attempted to attend, but were full by the time I got there):

  • Using music to reinforce vocabulary and grammar

  • Methods of teaching English to young beginners in a large Taiwanese elementary classroom (30+ students)

  • Content reading strategies to promote vocabulary acquisition

  • Teaching spelling and reading skills to children whose reading level is far below their chronological grade level

  • Activities to get students talking

  • Incorporating games and fun activities to raise their listening and speaking abilities…

Do you honestly think these workshops were difficult to put together and required extensive knowledge of SLA theory?

For those complaining about the same people doing it over and over again or it being only Taiwanese teachers and students presenting abstracts, all it takes is a few foreigners who have some knowledge or teaching strategies to share with others. We have some very capable foreign teachers on here who put on a workshop for other foreign teachers not too long ago.

And I think some of the local teachers could use the input. I overheard one teacher completely confused by the reading program I got very interested in because it didn’t simply teach all the vowels first and then the letters in alphabetical order. Anyone who has worked with a quality emergent readers phonics program knows that phonics are best taught by putting the consonants and vowels in the order of frequency or ease in hearing and producing and grouping them together in that way…For example, instead of a-e-i-o-u, it’s more common to teach the progression, for short vowels at least, a-i-o-e-u and the first five consonants as m-f-s-c/k-t with two or three of those consonants grouped with a vowel so kids can start decoding simple words like ‘cat’, ‘sat’, ‘mat’, and ‘Sam’.

Anyway, I find it rather baffling and frustrating about how many of us on here know quite a bit about teaching English and could impart our knowledge with others, but rather than getting involved or even attending to know what is offered, we choose to just sit back and bitch about how useless and repetitive the materials presented during conference are. To paraphrase Mark Twain, everyone complains about the conference, but no one ever does anything about it. There is a simple solution for improving the quality of the conference…

This isn’t really a viable excuse, since the conference is held on approximately the same dates and at the same venue every year.

Incidentally, to set the record straight, Krashen was not the only speaker to draw a (relatively) large number of foreign listeners.

For people interested in more practical, and less theoretical instruction or sessions that essentially explain recent studies, then there are always workshops and other types of hands-on presentations that one can attend at these conferences.

This isn’t really a viable excuse, since the conference is held on approximately the same dates and at the same venue every year.[/quote]I think you misread my post. I’m not sure who you suppose is making excuses for what.

[quote=“Jefferson”]For people interested in more practical, and less theoretical instruction or sessions that essentially explain recent studies, then there are always workshops and other types of hands-on presentations that one can attend at these conferences.[/quote]I think this is the kind of “bridge” between research and practice that is needed.

Yes, I didn’t know about it either. I guess I wasn’t really looking. I wonder if the proceedings will be published somewhere. A quick google should probably answer that question.

They give out a copy of the abstracts being presented and a general run-down of the workshops being run (so you can see what will interest you) with your registration package.

I can lend you my books, if you wish, twonavels.

I suppose they could do a better job of advertising themselves, but now that you know about it, how many of you would be interested in attending (or better yet, participating) for next year?

You can buy past proceedings/selected papers online on the ETA website:
eta.org.tw/eta/eta-english/index.htm

The menu/frames don’t seem to work in Firefox so here’s the direct link to the publications page:
eta.org.tw/eta/eta-english/page41.htm

They only seem to go up to 2001, though. Perhaps it’s worth contacting Cranes to ask about more recent ones.

This is a good thread and it’s getting quite a few views. Thanks ImaniOU.

Man, if only I had posted this thread a week ago… :doh:

For those who want to be kept up to date on the Taiwan English teaching, traveling circus circuit, I recommend joining the Hwa Kang Journal of TEFL Group. Messages about relevant conferences and deadlines are regularly sent to members.

Imani,
Obviously I’m not in the tube to present anymore (as I’m back in the States and not working in teaching at the moment) but I have presented at ETA in the past.

The main problem I saw for foreigners to present is that in many cases the level of English in the audience is not up to understanding complex subjects. There’s a big difference between having English good enough to teach kids conversation and being able to discuss technical stuff in Englsih – by which I mean linguistics, or teaching theory, or whatever.

Could presentations be made in “accessible” English? Sure. But lots of people don’t have much experience with that, either. Talking to children or students is different from trying to use what the Voice of American calls “basic international English” (BTW, another interesting concept, check out their online broadcasts explaining all sorts of things in a limited vocab).

At the time, I wrote the paper and presented in Chinese, because my focus was on using certain techniques from interpreting in the English language classroom. I’m not saying there aren’t lots of teachers who could handle that sort of thing in English, but at least at that time there were many more who honestly couldn’t (and wouldn’t ask questions or seek clarification becuase, well, you know, it’s embarassing). :frowning:

I agree that the general level of research in Taiwan is a bit short of the standard in some cases. My favorite thus far was being asked to re-do all the statistics for my second MA thesis (done in Taiwan, based exactly on the metholodogy and stats from my first MA and my Ph.D.) two days prior to the defense because “these statistics aren’t valid”. What a surprise, using the “alternate method” required gave precisely the same numbers… :noway: