The 7th ELT Malta Conference was held between 11 and 13 October 2018, organised by the ELT Council, a regulatory body within Malta’s Ministry for Education and Employment. According to Daniel Xerri, Chair of the ELT Council, the theme of ‘Multiple Perspectives in ELT’ underscores the importance that needs to be given to equality, diversity and inclusion in the ELT classroom as well as in the profession as a whole. This was one of the reasons the ELT Council decided to organise a pre-conference event focusing on LGBTIQ+ issues in English language education.
Continuing the tradition of collaborating with one of IATEFL’s special interest groups to provide a thematic strand at the conference, the ELT Council worked with the Young Learners and Teenagers SIG to develop a programme of plenaries, talks and workshops focusing on language education for children and teenagers. Daniel Xerri also explained how, “Teaching English to young learners is an increasingly important sector in Maltese ELT. Via this conference strand, we aimed to enable teachers to develop their knowledge and skills with respect to the needs of the different age groups that constitute YL ELT.”
The pre-conference event was opened by Thorsten Merse from Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Germany who robustly challenged ELT´s lip service to diversity. He argued that while global ELT tends to fashion itself for cultural diversity, it is also prone to privileging some identities and cultural representations over ‘Others’. Teacher trainer Angelos Bollas then examined the legality of including (and excluding) LGBTQI+ related issues in English lessons and explored ways to empower teachers to become more inclusive in their practices.
My own PCE workshop explored the powerful reasons why educators of upper secondary learners (aged 15 – 17) need to tackle homophobic bullying in the ELT classroom. The delegates experienced a range of practical, age-relevant ideas to take teenagers from initial awareness raising to anti-bullying actions.
I shared ways to use engaging authentic materials with strong anti-bullying messages. These included onescotland’s recent billboard campaign featuring letters to confront homophobes and transphobes, Upworthy’s video adaptation to challenge gender stereotypes via Hollie McNish’s ‘Pink or Blue’ poem as well as DIESEL’s Ha(u)te Couture latest advertising campaign to enable teens to subvert labels and take an empowering stand against online hate. My overall goal was to help teachers develop their upper secondary learners’ language skills whilst personalising and reflecting on this crucial human rights area.
The PCE was concluded by a workshop from ELT author, Katherine Bilsborough who questioned how we can celebrate diversity if publishers remain unwilling to include same-sex parents and caregivers in YL coursebooks. The day offered delegates a thought-provoking call to action and linked a rights-based approach with practitioners’ wider educator remits as well as reflected many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Given that YLTSIG’s mission is to lead, drive change and set standards in TEYL, the ELT Council’s prioritising of a rich and varied YL strand throughout the conference was a clear mark of affirmation. It was also forward-looking in terms of the changing demographic of Maltese ELT with increasing numbers of multilingual young learners coming to the island for English courses. Fiona Copland, Professor of TESOL at the University of Sterling, Scotland opened both the main conference and the YL strand with her plenary focused on the multiple experiences of primary teachers from around the world and the challenges they face. She also explored solutions that have been suggested by top experts in the field: primary English teachers themselves. Many of the areas covered in the opening plenary reflect the contents of the new Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners edited by Fiona and her colleague, Sue Garton. To use Shelagh Rixon’s expression, this volume really celebrates the ‘coming of age’ for the field of research in primary-level ELT.
The second plenary was expertly delivered by the British Council’s Young Learner Advisor for Quality, Gail Ellis who discussed theoretical and methodological concepts of learning to learn. She demonstrated numerous age-appropriate ways to provide children with a principled framework that combines metacognitive and cognitive strategy development.
On the final day of the conference, Katherine Bilsborough’s plenary unpacked what enquiry-based learning encompasses for young learners. She also shared techniques to stimulate children’s natural curiosity as well as considered how to better include their voices in the English language classroom.
I was honoured to give the closing plenary and my key premise was to question whether the notion of ‘syllabus’ is relevant or even appropriate when working with children in ELT. I went on to pose Andrew Littlejohn’s (2016) idea that a ‘curriculum’ approach including schemes of work would be much better suited to defining how English learning is organised at the primary level. Finally, I recommended alternatives for re-crafting ELT curricula and schemes of work which fundamentally reposition the focus on to the child with age-appropriacy, learning to learn and children’s rights at the core.
A final highlight from the conference was YLTSIG Publications Editor, Amanda Davies’ talk which demonstrated how the trend for early years ELT is increasing steadily – whether we believe this is good or not. Amanda explained how in many contexts it is qualified primary teachers who are meeting this demand, applying what works in the primary classroom with mixed results. Her talk presented key research in early childhood education and then looked at the essentials for making early years lessons as rich and meaningful as possible for children, parents / caregivers and providers alike.
In her historical overview of YLTSIG’s development, Shelagh Rixon (2016:10) eloquently notes how back in 1987, ‘Young learners were about to come out from behind the sofa’. Fast forward 30 years to the 7th ELT Malta Council – clearly young learners are not only visible, but are finally receiving the academic attention and depth of pedagogical reflection that the age range certainly deserves.
As we move into 2019, we would very much like to hear about what’s moving and shaking in TEYL in your teaching and learning context. Please share your ideas on the YLTSIG social media channels and join the global discussion.
DIESEL Ha(u)te Couture Campaign: https://www.facebook.com/Diesel/videos/265309297654796/
One Scotland Hate Crime Campaign: https://onescotland.org/campaigns/hate-crime-campaign/
Upworthy Facebook Video: ‘Pink or Blue?’ https://www.facebook.com/Upworthy/videos/pink-or-blue/2043040435736804/
Garton, S. and Copland, F. (eds.) (2019). The Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners. Oxon: Routledge.
Littlejohn, A. (2016). Task types and cognitive engagement. TEYLT Worldwide: The Newsletter of the IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group, 50 – 53.
Rixon, S. (2016). The IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group – The First 30 Years. C&TS Digital Special Pearl Anniversary Edition.