Devil’s Advocate vs Vicki Hollett on ELF

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the fifth victim on the hot seat is the lovely Vicki Hollett. 

Vicki Hollett is a business and technical English teacher, teacher trainer and author. British by birth, she now lives in the US where she is learning to speak ’merican and blogging about it here. Her friends at work say she’s now reached intermediate. Yay! She hopes ELF will be easier to learn.

Chia:  Hi Vicki! It’s a real pleasure to have you as our guest on DA today!

Vicki:  Pleasure’s all mine

Chia:  I’ve been told that you are the organiser of the BESIG pre-conference event at the IATEFL Glasgow conference this year, and the theme of the event is ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)?

Vicki: Yes, in fact I’m relying on you to come and be one of our speakers.

Chia:  Shh…I’m pretending to be DA now, so let’s keep my other identity under wraps for now…(hear the Batman theme tune in the background?) hee hee *wink*

So many people have been talking about ELF ad nauseum over the past few years, but just in case our readers don’t know what it is, would you care to explain briefly?

Vicki:  ELF stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and it’s generally used to talk about the English that’s used in communications between NNSs, because it happens to be their shared language. (It’s often used to describe conversations where NSs are present too though.)

Chia:  But whether it’s English used to chat to NSs or NNSs, it is still English, isn’t it? Why are we making such a big deal about it?

Vicki:  It raises many important questions. For example, are NS standards always the best ones to use to assess our students’ output?

And are we working smart and using precious classroom time in the most helpful ways?

Chia:  Wait…are you suggesting that there are other standards by which to assess our students’ output?

Vicki:  Well yes, I think “success” should be the standard. As in ‘Can they get the job done?’

Chia:  Surely, getting the job done means being able to speak English? And we have to teach some kind of English as an end-point, don’t we? Since English belongs to the English, isn’t it only sensible to use proper English as a standard? Plus, in order for successful communication to take place, doesn’t the learner have to speak accurately? If I say, ‘I went to the cinema tomorrow’, you would have no clue what I am saying…

Vicki: English is a means to an end for most students. The bigger goal is being able to communicate successfully with international contacts. Languages are shaped by people using them and there are more NNs in the world than NSs. But the key point here is that no, English doesn’t have to be accurate for successful communication to take place. That’s why the ELF research is so interesting.

 

Chia:  I am finding it hard to separate the use of the English language from ‘successful communication’.

People learn English so that they can communicate successfully.

We teachers are here to teach them English to enable them to do so.

How does ELF change anything?

What are you suggesting we teach to aid successful communication?

Vicki:  I think we should be trying to develop capabilities that will help them cope in very diverse settings. For example, language for building relationships and rapport, the flexibility of mind to employ empathy and see things from different points of view, and importantly the ability to accommodate and negotiate meanings…

I can’t go into much detail, but for example, raising awareness of different turn taking styles and ways in which linguistic politeness vary, checking and clarifying activities, more work at discourse rather than at sentence level, getting students to adapt messages for different audiences.

Chia:  That all sounds good. But to be honest, it’s what a good Business English trainer/Communications Coach already does. How does ELF change anything?

Vicki:  Well actually, I think we have been doing a lot that’s helpful in business English. (And there are a heck of a lot of successful ELF speakers out there, so there’s proof in a way.)

But I think some areas are lacking. Take relationship building – speech acts and functional phrases are important for that but I think they’re still often taught without context. And then there’s the issue of assessment by NS standards.

Chia:  But I think a lot of what you say really boils down to the English teacher having good idea of what enables successful communication and being able to help students with that, rather than having any knowledge of ELF and its research findings, isn’t it? What was that about letting learners drop the third person ‘s’ and dependent prepositions, and not teaching them to use weakening with the schwa? Surely that’s just bad English???

Vicki:  Not many teachers get the chance to follow their students around and see them in action using English at work, hence research is invaluable…

Re: letting the third person ‘s’ and dependent prepositions go by, it goes back to working smarter. We need to prioritise things that are going to give the biggest bang for our student’s buck. Not weakening with the schwa is interesting because it may sometimes make someone more intelligible to a NNS.

Chia:  Are you therefore saying that if dumbing down enables one to be more intelligible to other NNSs, we should be teaching a dumbed down version of English? Would it not result in ELF becoming a pidgin version of English though?

Vicki:  Actually I’m saying our students need to attain a *higher* level of skill in English. Depending on who they are communicating with, they may need to weaken that schwa or not. It’s a skill we need to be pay more attention to: callibrating for the competence of your interlocutor – so the ability to adapt your message in real time as you gather more information about your interlocutor’s knowledge of the subject and linguistic competence.

Chia:  So this ‘callibrating’ includes dumbing down one’s English then?

Vicki:  Ha! Why yes! It’s an unusual way to state it, because it’s a high level skill. For example, new English teachers often struggle with it. But the ability to grade your language so you can be understood by the person you’re talking to is a key ‘ELF’ skill.

Chia:  How can language teachers teach this though? Surely it’s a skill that one picks up through experience. I mean, some people are just naturally more sensitive to others and adapt more to them. Others just don’t listen and can’t be taught to. Is it really part of our job to teach such skills?

Vicki:  I think it poses particular challenges for teachers working with monolingual classes, but there’s still lots that can be done. Eg. performing a task once, then changing it slightly and doing it again. How did you need to adjust what you said to the new circumstance/interlocutor/context. …

Some people are better at adjusting and accommodating than others. By drawing attention to what they’re doing and offering opportunities to practise it, we can help others get better too.

And yes, absolutely it’s part of our job.

Chia:  All this skills work is probably great. But my students come to me to learn English. And by learning English, they mean they want to be taught the grammar, the lexis and the pronunciation of the English language. They say they want to learn to speak like a NS. And they often don’t feel like they are learning anything unless they are put through grammar exercises and lots of corrections. Are you then saying we should ignore what our students expect of our classes and what they want?

Vicki:  No. I think the customer is king and we should deliver what they want. …

Not only do our students have to invest money, but they also have to invest effort to learn English. It’s foolish to imagine that what we teach will necessarily be learnt. They will weigh the effort required against what they think will be most useful and be selective….

Hey, maybe that’s why so many ELF speakers leave off the third person ‘s’.

Chia:  I get that leaving out the third person ‘s’ may not be detrimental to meaning creation, but what kind of impression is that creating in the fellow interlocutor though?

If an NNS goes for a job interview, or goes on CNBC to be interviewed about their expertise, and they make a seemingly tiny error that does not affect their intelligibility, e.g ‘The government want that the economy recover more’. Although we understand what they mean, but we might not have a very good impression of them…

As much as the liberal ELF proponents would like to seek justice for the NNSs who have been discriminated against for decades, the fact of the matter is the real world is cruel, and it judges you by the kind of English you speak. Even if you are perfectly intelligible, but saying something like ‘He want that I go’ could very well cost you a job.

Vicki:  Sure, impressions can be damaged by poor English. (Particularly so with writing). But there are very proficient NNSs who can sail through a job interview or ace an advanced examination in English and never drop a third person ‘s’. But when they are mixing with other ELF speakers at an international conference, they drop it. They know the rule perfectly well. But in many contexts, the content of the discussion is what matters and adding an ‘s’ or not becomes irrelevant.

Mostly our students want to be known as decent, trustworthy and likable people – the sort you’d like to do business with. Speaking English correctly contributes to that, but some of the other things we’ve mentioned contribute more.

Chia:  So you are saying that there are times when the NNS would need to use NS-normative accurate English, and at other times, they would need to adapt and accommodate other ELF speakers. There was some research done in the field of ELF that found NNSs using the article ‘the’ in a slightly different way from NSs. It was found that ‘the’ was used in expressions like ‘the life is good’ to emphasize the noun ‘life’. But which rule of ‘the’ should the English teacher be teaching? Both? Neither? We need to teach something. And at the moment ELF research looks very much like descriptive linguistics that do not have much pedagogic implications in prescribing what we teach.

Vicki:  Oh I haven’t heard of that research, but it sounds interesting. Researchers have found NSs and NNSs using quite a few bits of language differently. “You know” is another one and ‘disagree’ and a lot of other performative verbs like ‘suggest’, ‘recommend’, ‘propose’ etc.

I think we should be teaching the usages we follow and learning about the new usages that are emerging as fast as we can.

We need to be able to provide our learners with more information so they can make informed decisions.

Chia:  I think you have offered a very fair view of the issue so far, Vicki. Teaching English is not just about discrete items of lexis or grammar, but about helping our learners to become better communicators. And to do this, we have to teach them the skills needed in interacting with our NNSs of different levels of proficiency who might come from different cultures in different contexts. Sounds like teaching ELF is in fact quite the contrary to dumbing down language. What is the opposing of ‘dumbing down’?  Hmm… Are we over-complicating the matter here?

Vicki:  I reckon that in some ways teaching ELF is about a very simple switch in thinking. When we measure students against a NS standard, we tend to wind up focusing on errors, deficiencies and pragmatic failures.

But when we flip the switch and think in terms of what works in ELF contexts, the picture get much rosier. There are new priorities and we stand a better chance of going after (and meeting) the best goals.

Chia:  Thanks for painting such a bright picture of the future, Vicki! And I thought that ELF might just mean the end of our teaching careers! Hahaha

Vicki:  Gosh I hope not!

Chia:  I hope I haven’t given you too hard a time.

Vicki:  Not at all.

Chia:  Shall we just remind everyone that the BESIG PCE is on the 19th March at the IATEFL Glasgow conference, and speaking on the topic of ELF are Vicki Hollett, Mark Powell and myself (not as DA).

Vicki:  Look forward to seeing you at the BESIG PCE in Glasgow

Chia:  Thanks so much for your time, Vicki! See you in Glasgow!

Epilogue: Vicki’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. Contrary to Chia’s position on this blogpost, she is actually an ELF convert and will be speaking about her 5-year journey with ELF, alongside Vicki Hollett at the BESIG PCE this March at IATEFL Glasgow 2012.

Devil’s Advocate vs Anthony Gaughan on Lesson Aims & Plans in Teacher Training

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

The fourth victim on DA is Anthony Gaughan. 

Anthony Gaughan began teaching in 1995 and now spends most of his time training teachers in Hamburg and Berlin, Germany, where he was worked for the best part of the last 12 years.  He is especially interested in ultralight approaches to teaching, especially Dogme ELT (Teaching Unplugged).  In 2010, he shared his vision and work on unplugging initial teacher training courses like the Cambridge ESOL CELTA at IATEFL Harrogate

He writes about this ongoing work and you can also catch him on Twitter here.

He is also an active member of IATEFL, serving as the Social Media Evangelist for the Teacher Development Special Interest Group of IATEFL (TDSIG).

Having supped with the Devil’s Advocate here, he will be giving a talk at the IATEFL 2012 Conference in Glasgow on The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.

Chia:  It’s a real honour to finally get the guru of Teacher Training Unplugged on DA! You ready for a grilling?

Anthony: You do me too much honour, I think, but I’m happy to get a grilling now and perhaps a roasting from your readers later…

Chia:  I’m sure any grilling and roasting will all be done in good humour and in the name of CPD…

Many teacher trainers often tell their trainees that one should always start preparing for a lesson by first stating one’s aim…for when we know the aim, we can then go about planning a logical procedure that would help us achieve the lesson aim.

However, you seem to have a rather different take on this issue, I’ve been told…

Anthony:  I’m not so sure about that.  I think that having a clear idea about what it is that you are setting out to do and what you hope to achieve by that is generally a good idea.

What I perhaps have a problem with is how this basic common sense gets done in practice – or rather, how trainees get told to do it.

For example, ask any number of trainers (or trainees) on initial training courses what a lesson aim should be like and they will almost certainly say something like “By the end of the lesson, the learners will have improved their ability to (add communicative function, e.g. talk about their current habits) by using (add lexical/grammatical item, e.g. present simple).”

Sounds OK? After all, it outlines the language area being targeted, thus enabling said trainee to research it, and it’s communicatively oriented, thus making it potentially useful for the learners in real life, and it is developmental, as it aims for “improvement”.  Problem is, in many respects, it’s meaningless.

For example, does the trainee really know that their learners need this lesson on this piece of language? Even if they do need it, will this aim lead the trainee to an appropriate procedure for the level and needs of the group, or will they simply operationalise one of the “lesson “shapes” that they may have encountered on the course?  And how is one to measure improvement? Here are some problems for a start.

Chia:  Trainees on initial teacher training courses often come from a traditional background of teaching, which often involves a ‘chalk and talk’ style of ‘transmission of knowledge. Getting trainees to articulate their lesson aims forces them to think about what they hope to achieve (with the level and needs of the group in mind) before embarking on planning the lesson procedure. It also demonstrates to the learner that teacher has thought about what is needed and has prepared for them).

Without formulating aims, trainees are likely to just be going through coursebook exercises one after the other (Turn and Burn) without any thought as to why they are doing it or how it helps the learners.

Anthony:  The alternative to these sorts of aims is not “no aim at all”, as I’m sure you are aware – but to go back to your starting point…

If trainees come from a “chalk n talk” background, an aim formulated in a specific manner won’t change their behaviour – and it might in fact act as camouflage for their teacher-centred tendencies (i.e. the observing TP tutor is lulled into a false sense of security while reviewing the lesson plan by the superficially learner centred aim format, but under the hood in the procedure, there is something more transmissive brewing.)  This often goes unnoticed until during the lesson, incidentally, as procedures might be so thin on detail as to obscure what is really going to occur.

In short, lesson aim formulas may facilitate and disguise lack of reflection.  The trainee might have been better off simply stating in their own words what they wanted to achieve – they would understand it better, and the tutors would be less likely to fall for appropriately phrased but vacuous aims of the other type.

Chia : But Anthony, the way a trainee formulates his aims are often telling of their beliefs and attitudes towards teaching and language learning…There’s a reason why the ‘given pattern of phrasing’ aims exist. It ensures that the trainees ask the following questions:

Is the context included? (Because teaching language out of context is not only meaningless but can be detrimental to retrieval);

Is the aim achievable or is immediate production expected (Language acquisition is not linear and to expect immediate production is foolish);

Is it clear from the aim that the trainee understands the need for practice (Simply presenting the language without allowing practice of it is not going to help the learners)…etc.

Not only that, ‘it reflect teacher’s planning decisions, as well as the teacher’s understanding of the principles of lesson design…and a reliable indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise’ (Thornbury, A-Z of ELT) Wouldn’t you agree, Anthony?

Anthony:  Not entirely, Chia.  Firstly, requiring a lesson aim in a certain form of words in no way ensures “trainees ask themselves (important) questions”.

I do agree that a better teacher will be able to formulate lesson aims that more accurately reflect what they intend to occur in a lesson, and I agree that if aims are formulated in a way that implicitly poses useful questions to the teacher, this may make them more mindful of whatever tacit theories of teaching/learning are being inculcated.  However, I would question deeply whether this use of a “given pattern of phrasing”, as you put it, actually leads to heightened awareness in trainees in itself.

So what I suppose I am actually concerned about, or against, if you will, is less the formulation of aims as such (which I do see a point to), but rather the issue I see with a trainee potentially adopting aims formulation of a certain type simply in order to match whatever they believe their tutors want to read.

If we ask our trainees to work within a given framework, however we justify it, we create the danger that less able candidates will simply conform without really engaging with the task usefully, in order to do what we want.

Chia:  Fine, so we both agree that planning and formulating lesson aims can be good? So what would you suggest as an alternative in order to overcome the dangers of hoop-jumping which a formalised certification process often presents.

Anthony: There is a lot of potential on intensive teacher training courses for hoop-jumping, and a lot of it is connected to lesson planning.  I agree that preparing for a lesson is an important thing for teachers, experienced or newbies, but there is a difference between having a plan and being prepared.

One thing you could do straight away if you wanted to reduce the potential for “hoop-jumping” is get rid of TP points (note: TP points = Teaching Practice points, lesson ideas given to trainees by their TP tutors, with more or less detail about content and approach).  Another thing you could do is reduce the amount of paper documentation that a trainee needs to submit for formal assessment in the early stages of the course.  Another thing centres can do is become more flexible in the format that lesson plans take.

Chia:  Can I first address your point about planning and being prepared? I think we should remember that we are not asking trainees to plan for planning’s sake.

The point of lesson planning, I always tell my trainees, is that through the process of sitting down and writing up the plan, trainees are forced to think through what they want the learners to achieve and how exactly they are going to go about doing it.

It also focuses trainees on the language that needs researching before they enter the classroom. Although teachers might not go in and execute the plan in the exact way they have planned it, the careful thought that has gone into the lesson will ensure that teachers have a direction even when they divert off plan.

And although trainees might never have to plan in such detail in real life, the process of writing lesson aims and lesson plans gives them a foundation on which to base their classroom decisions, and it gives them the structure upon which they could improvise and be flexible with dealing with the learners needs in a lesson.

e.g. If during a lesson, it becomes obvious that all the learners have issues with using ‘for’ and ‘since’, the teacher will be able to instantly formulate on the spot new aims in his/her head, followed by a clear logical procedure that would help learners with their issues…improvising a ritual that he/she has honed through the practice of lesson planning….

I suppose, it’s like learning to play the scales when you are learning music. You are never going to perform the scales in a concert, but the scales, although seemingly restrictive, actually give you a foundation upon which to improvise and be flexible.

Anthony:  Lots there, Chia, so I’ll proceed carefully….

Of course we are not asking them to plan for planning’s sake, but how do they see it? And what might we be doing which might be contributing to their view of it?  What I mean is, by asking trainees to submit work in a given format (i.e. a centre specific lesson plan template) we are asking them to shoehorn their thinking and way of thinking into a rigid framework which may simply not make sense to them in their terms.

There are alternative ways of laying out thinking about a lesson on paper – mind maps, for example, but how often do trainees do that? And why do you suppose they don’t? Based on conversations I’ve had, I think it’s because, contrary to what we may say to them, they feel that they “should” do it the centre’s way, for whatever reason.  And by the way, it doesn’t matter what we say they are free to do; what matters is what they hear they “should” do.

Now, I see no meaningful correlation between the ability to formulate explicit lesson aims of a specific type and the ability to notice an emergent need in the classroom and work out a way of serving it on the fly.  On the contrary, the fixation of pre-determining everything which is to occur in a lesson and forming an aim which condenses this is arguably more likely to lead to such emergent moments going either unnoticed or ignored for fear that their treatment would get in the way of the plan (how often have you heard that?)

This is one reason why I suggested getting rid of TP points earlier: it isn’t forming lesson aims that trains a teacher to become flexible and responsive in class – far from it, I would say.  Instead, it is listening to learners with an open mind and responding freely to that.

And just so in music: a musician is not made by running scales – they are made by learning to listen and by exploring the range and limitations of their instrument unfettered by scales (ask Evelyn Glennie, world-class deaf percussionist, and she’d confirm this, by the way!)

So in short: lesson planning is not the key to developing a great teacher; developing listening skills, data gathering skills and the ability to see needs within the data – all this must be in place before formally assessing lesson planning has any added value.

Chia:  Every good trainee should know that they should not be teaching the plan but their learners. It’s a well-known maxim that trainers often tell their learners.

To quote Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT again, he says, ‘”Despite the apparent inflexibility of planning a lesson in such detail, most observers allow for the fact that no lesson is entirely predictable. They will not expect the teacher to follow the plan slavishly. In reality, most lessons are a dynamic mix of the planned and the unplanned, and it is often during the unplanned moments that the most rewarding learning opportunities occur… Nevertheless, it is generally felt that the exercise of planning lessons in detail is a useful training practice, and a relaible indicator of the quality of a teacher’s expertise.”

All the teaching skills that you mentioned (developing listening skills, responding appropriately to learners, gathering data from what is happening in the classroom, etc) all point towards the fact that you believe in learning by doing.

But arguably, Celta trainees are going to go on to teach and practise their teaching skills after the Celta and they will be able to hone those skills in their own time. Having said that, many Celta trainees come on the course, not just to get a certification to teach, but also to learn by being given a structure to follow. Providing a basis using lesson aims and procedures can guide more systematic learners as they will have something to fall back on – a hook, if you may, to lean on, before being thrown into the deep end…

And you must agree that we should train our trainees in the way they are best able to learn, and not in the way that we want to teach. If our trainees find that giving them a structure can help clarify their doubts, why are we insisting on taking that away from them?

Anthony:  Why? Simple: because that is putting the cart before the horse, however easy it may be to use the “we’re serving our trainees by giving them structure, a hook, a recipe, etc” argument to cover up the fact that this leads, wittingly or not, to an industrial, production line model of training, and – and this is the truly nefarious bit – outsourcing the real learning to after the course!

You talk about honing, but you can only hone what you have in hand – and as these things are core to teaching and are hard to get to grips with, are we doing our trainees a service or a disservice by saying that “you’ll have time to hone that after the course; focus now on getting these recipes down pat”?

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen that many trainees who are put at ease by having to complete formal lesson plans – on the contrary, they are a source of stress, regardless of learner background.  As I said earlier, this is linked to squeezing one’s thinking into a given format.

Chia:  You speak of recipes…Jamie Oliver is famous for experimenting and creating amazing fusion dishes, but did he not learn from having recipes at the beginning before going on to become the master that he is today.

Our trainees need building blocks before they can start to go solo and improvise, and this is not ‘squeezing your thinking into a given format’, but rather giving them good habits they will need and the thought processes that will underline the decisions they will make in the classroom.

Anthony:  I know you like the analogies that can be drawn between teaching and cooking, as do I, but we should be careful!  I am not arguing here against “lesson recipes”, if you will, but against the products which we ask trainees to submit as evidence that they have internalised these recipes – the paper-based plan itself.

Taking your cooking analogy further: what is the better indicator of a chef’s aptitude – a paper-based description of a recipe that they have conceived, or the ability to get in the kitchen and turn out something edible in real time?

Let’s face it, lesson plan documentation (as opposed to recipes), especially when linked to a given “helpful” lesson plan template, is an administrative convenience, nothing more.  It enables the quick assessment of the outcomes of a trainee’s thinking about a lesson – but the question that concerns me is: how much is not revealed by these partial documents?

And they are partial in both senses.  They require trainees to think and express themselves in the terms of the plan, not in their own.  This is likely to have a limiting effect on their ability to express their ideas, and it may even hinder them in their thinking from the start: if you spend any time talking to trainees about the process of planning, you hear this a lot.

And I doubt that Jamie Oliver ever had to produce the kind of “meal plans” that you can read and replicate from his cook books in his time as a chef – he learnt by watching an experienced chef and by getting stuck in.

 Thus suggesting perhaps that writing a clear and useful lesson plan – like a clear and useful meal recipe – is something to aim for towards the end of training, not the beginning?

Chia:   What then do you suggest we as trainers do to help trainees hone the necessary skills and develop a systematic thought process that would enable them to deal with skills and language work in the classroom effectively?

Anthony:  Well, passing over the danger in your use of “systematic” (whose system?), I think one thing that could be done is ease up on when and how much documentation needs to be submitted for assessment, and also easing up on the format this takes.  As I said earlier, another thing you could do is reduce the amount of materials and concrete guidance provided early on, in order to allow for trainees to invest themselves more fully in the planning of their lessons from as early as possible.

A final thing you can do is stagger the need for formal assessment of their lesson planning ability by not asking for fully featured plans from day one, or even during the whole of weeks one-three on a typical initial 4-week course.  But I’ll leave it to your readers to take these discussions further.

Chia:  Thanks for your time, Anthony. You’ve provided us with lots of food for thought there!

Epilogue: Anthony’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. However, Chia is still waiting to be convinced to lighten her focus on lesson aims and plans on her CELTA courses, and so Chia and Anthony are planning to carry on this discussion in Lubeck, Germany. Interested parties ought to leave their comments here.

Devil’s Advocate vs Phil Wade on Exams and Testing

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

The third victim on DA is Phil Wade.

Phil has taught in various schools and universities and is now teaching in-house managers and MA students. He is passionate about exams, and has set up and run courses for IELTS, CAE, TOEIC, and most other test. This has led him to become an examiner, work on pre-tests, and create a range of exam preparation material, tests, and online course. Phil can be found on Twitter and sharing ideas on blogs such as his own. 

Chia:  Phil, are you ready to be hot-seated?

Phil:  Famous last words. I’ve booked a hospital bed for tonight.

Chia: Hahaha…actually, from previous discussions, I’m of the understanding that you are the one with a gripe to air today…

Phil:  Oh, I’m northern so just like moaning. My gran once made a waiter go to a shop to buy tomatoes because the salad didn’t have any.

“You can’t have a bloody salad without tomatoes”.

Chia:  Hahaha…and your rant today is about exams? What issues could you have with them?

Phil:  Hmm. I have countless grudges against exams and the result they are having on EFL and students.

Chia:  I guess you are not talking about the positive effect that exams have in motivating students then?

Phil:  Motivating? Well, if putting pressure on students to pass some exam which often is not actually useful, then perhaps they are, but how about all the students who fail or aren’t allowed to do exam prep classes because they are too low. Quite de-motivating perhaps?

Chia: Being motivating does not mean letting everyone pass and giving everyone a pat on the back…

Being down on exams just because some students fail is like saying sports day is demotivating and scrapping it completely because some students would not get a gold medal.

In real life, there are goals, and there are targets to aim for. Exams provide that benchmark of achievement so that students have clear goals to strive for. And when these goals are reached, the student can feel a great sense of self-confidence and fulfillment.

Phil: Many school/university exams are made so easy that everyone gets 100%. There’s not much motivation or self-fulfillment there if everyone gets the same mark.

Marking is also very subjective and the examiner is the one who decides if answers are correct. To avoid this problem though, some places just use MCQ and GF questions.

Chia:  But let’s consider this: a teacher/school might give an exam simply to remind students to study and review their work, and might make it slightly easier so that the students’ confidence is boosted. Is that such a bad thing?

Phil:  Stress. That’s what a lot of my students say when I announce a test will take place or if you surprise them with one they may say it is unfair. Why not just set up an activity that requires them to use and demonstrate their knowledge? After all, that’s what we want, not just a lower order answering of questions or ticking of boxes…

Chia: Sure, students are going to tell you it’s stressful…but a lot of students do excel when given the competitive element and attempt to outdo themselves and measure their progress…

Of course, testing our students in the classroom does not just mean discrete item tests, but should definitely include activities that allow us to measure their communicative competence as well…But those are tests too, aren’t they?

Phil:  Of course, including the huge numbers in counselling or who commit suicide due to exam stress in Asia where depression amongst students is the norm, due partly to continual tests.  Testing communicative competency is a tough one, breaking it down into categories is very difficult and certainly open to interpretation.

Chia: It’s not the fault of exams as such but the fault of society that drive people to suicide. And you know that in Asia, the issue isn’t with just EFL exams but university entrance exams…. But since our topic today is EFL exams…

Phil:  OK. I will restrict my defence to EFL exams then as you wish. Wouldn’t you say parents camping out outside exam centres and jumping on candidates to find out what they were asked just to help their son/daughter get a better mark is a bit OTT? Or 18-year-old kids getting sent to the UK and not being allowed back until they get band 6 or TOEIC 750? Yet, this has led many students to be quite happy about failing as they get to stay abroad….

Chia: But many of these EFL exams such as IELTS and the Cambridge main suite exams aim to provide an accurate description of the student’s level and a benchmark of achievement for the students, don’t you think?

Phil: Benchmark of achievement? Achieving what though? Passing by any means necessary which includes memorization, buying papers and answers from the net, cramming the night before or planning how to meet every single band category? It’s this kind of exam industry that’s killing EFL .

As for IELTS, really? There are plenty of students walking round with 6 on speaking who can’t really speak and a whole lot more who did crash courses to get 5.5 who can neither write a real essay or debate. They learn IELTS English and cram in every trick, strategy and memorize phrases to get the band. What’s even worse is all the students doing FCE, IELTS, CAE general courses who just learn exam English every day…….

Chia: Really? I’ve often found that by talking to students for a bit, you can more or less judge relatively accurately what sort of IELTS bandscore they might be. e.g. I was speaking to this student the other day and I thought, ‘I bet you she’s an IELTS 6’ and true enough, she was. Doesn’t such regular occurrences testify to the fact that the exam is reliable?

Phil:  So, why doesn’t every 6 get a 6? Some get 5 or even 7? Test day nerves, being prepared, getting the right questions, time management, etc, all play a part. If your lovely student was asked to talk about her garden for 2 minutes but doesn’t have one, then what kind of mark would she get? And then how would she handle a 4-minute debate about open green spaces if she didn’t know about it or even understand it. There are cultural clash problems, examiner bias and training issues, not to mention the fact the many examiners can’t agree exactly on the scores, which is why there is some official difference allowed….

Chia:  Phil, you don’t have a Woolly Mammoth, but could you describe one for two minutes?

The student doesn’t need to have a garden to describe one…

I’m sure the student has heard of a garden or seen one on TV (thanks to the influence of Western TV and media) to be able to describe one.

If not, creativity on the part of the student could allow her to talk about not knowing what a garden is for two minutes, or ask to talk about something related to gardens that are more relevant to her.

Phil:  No and even less than no if I was from a country that didn’t have that on the curriculum. OK, I’ll be more specific about my garden example, ‘Do you have a garden?’ ‘What do people do in their gardens in your country?’. If you lived in a flat all your life in a big city and had intermediate level English without strategies to deal with that question, then you would get stuck. Many of these Cambridge exams, if not all, are made in England by seasoned examiners or people with many years experience, and every new batch has to be different. Yet the big markets for IELTS remain in India and China. This clash means that questions are often very culturally-bound and thus don’t work very well. While some are just daft and many people refuse to ask them…

Chia:  It seems to me that the issue you have is with the universal structure and format of the IELTS exam. Would you not be happier, as you seem to have suggested, with culturally and regionally sensitive versions of IELTS?

Phil: Regionally sensitive? Sounds good but how can you compare Xiao Lin in Shanghai with Sara in Paris then? That’s the problem. BULATS in a way is helping as it adapts to the answers students give, or so I am told.

Chia: But regardless of the cultural or regional biasness of the exams, couldn’t the candidates employ the strategies and tricks you were referring to earlier to cope with these issues?

Phil: Exam strategies and task item knowledge are useful, but some schools lecture 1000 candidates for 2 days and promise a score of 5.5. Having marked these students on their writing and speaking, you can see that they all just memorise answers and paste them together, but it’s often enough to get 5/5.5. They also ‘crack the codes’ allegedly by analysing so many reading/listening papers that they know what works and even the style of the papers. A more shocking example is that there used to be a website that listed all the speaking examiners and what type of questions they preferred and how to answer them.

Chia:  Using such illegal and underhanded means to try and get the scores needed is clearly unacceptable practice, but tests and exams do not always need to be the be all and end all. It can be a positive reinforcement to their learning.

Our students often come to our classes with an objective. And the objective often can be narrowed down to specific goals in communicative ability. Shouldn’t they want to know what kind of return on their investment (time and money) they are getting? Continual classroom testing can be seen as benchmarking and demonstrating progress to the student, as well as identifying areas on which they still have to work. Why therefore would your learners not want to jump at such an opportunity?

Phil: Continual classroom testing? Perhaps frequent informal pair/group tests for revision can maintain motivation and give students a good measure of how they are doing but nowadays aren’t we more about individual goals and progression? A bog standard test from a book cannot do so.

Chia:  We are talking about continual testing, but no one said anything about using a bog standard test from a book to carry this out. Of course testing should be tailored to the needs and goals of the students as well as what they have been learning. Good testing procedures can examine communicative competency and aren’t usually about discrete item tests. You can’t deny me that…!

Phil:  Continual assessment sounds like a DELTA discussion where everyone says how great it is but can’t agree on how to do it. I’ve had the argument many times and finally got to run some courses just based on continual testing. It really shocked students and they wanted to know how they would be assessed and thus we had to create VERY detailed marking schemes that cause a lot of time to get eaten up and long meetings about how to use them. Testing communicative competence is rather difficult. You could just give a general ‘participation’ mark but that is less reliable and open to scrutiny if someone complains, but then again so is the previous example….

Chia:  How about giving students a mark based on your own professional opinion and stop worrying about detailed marking schemes and criteria?

Phil:  Own opinion?

Chia:  You (the generic you referring to all teachers) are a professional, you should be able to do that….And if you aren’t able to, than you should be questioning what you are doing in the first place?

Phil: But isn’t that biased and based on if I like them or if they reached my standard? Consciously perhaps no but unconsciously there will be some bias. Why not swap classes and judge students you don’t know? I have had years of this problem where I set up mark schemes to test speaking and establish quotas for how many people can get A, B… yet teachers very rarely stick to them and just say “they were all so good” or “they are the nicest students I have”. Don’t forget, students are sometimes very good at playing teachers.

Chia:  Are you saying that teachers are any less professional than sports referees? Being unbiased is a fundamental part of who referees are. Are you saying teachers are only semi-professional at what they do? Unbiased objectivity is a part of their professionalism. Just like every sales person who leaves their conscience in bed when they go to work every morning, a teacher involved in testing should also leave their personal opinions in bed when they go to work.

Phil:  Oh. You’re trying to get me in trouble here. I can see the lynchmob waiing at the door. All I’m saying is that we are human and if a student is always late or was once rude to you, then that will naturally affect how you mark him. If we are talking about examiners, then I think there is research to show how they can be affected by body language, the time of day, if the student is the first/last candidate, if they are polite, eye contact etc. The same for the student in that if the examiner is tired and not very polite when they enter they may lose confidence. I even had 1 who just headbutted the desk as he couldn’t cope with it while many just stand up and leave. A completely professional person who cannot be influenced by anything would be wonderful but probably a robot, sounds like TOEFL IBT  (The online version of TOEFL with a computer speaking test so I hear)

Chia: It’s not testing as such that you are against but the influence external factors can have on examiners that you have your gripe with. If science fiction is anything to believe, then terminators, transformers and other robots should be engaged to do the testing…

Phil:  That is where we are headed as Cambridge are working on online versions of their main exams, and why not? I know that stuff like IELTS, FCE etc are very difficult to set up and aren’t run all the time while TOEIC can be run in your school quite easily but BULATS can be done online and you get the results straightaway, it’s cheapish too. We can’t stop technology and it will eventually be good enough to assess students but not now…..

Chia:  Are you really admitting that using technology and testing students online is the way to go?

Are you really suggesting that the practicality of running the test is more important than its reliability?

In an era where we are moving towards using English as a lingua franca and more concerned with one’s ability to communicate and to negotiate meaning… in an era when CEF has progressed to assessing one’s level according to ‘can do’ statements and not discrete item grammar tests, are you suggesting that online tests would be better than the professional opinion of a language teacher at evaluating the learner’s communicative competence?

Phil:  Well, it’s happening more and more. For instance, in translation, machine versions are becoming the norm in many places and are then just tidied up. We’ll get to a point where programmes can assess writing and speaking but I’m sure Nik Peachey can add a lot more to this.

It depends on who you are asking. It took me 7 months to set up and run and deal with an inhouse IELTS test, and it caused a lot of problems. I would also add that it was FAR less reliable than one in an exam centre. Why? Because students were relaxed, too relaxed, and it was sandwiched between other classes. If they’d gone to a centre they could’ve got ‘in the mode’ so to speak better. Yet, as demand rises we are seeing more and more inhouse tests for 200, 500 students or in Asia for 1000+…

Chia: Phil, you seem to be contradicting yourself here. Earlier, you said that students find tests stressful and that the nerves ensured that they weren’t able to perform at their best and show their level. Now, you are saying students are too relaxed and so couldn’t speak well???

Phil:  Contradiction? Perhaps, but not really. Overstressed is one thing, like in China where students break down and cry in tests or the police come and rescue them from traffic jams so they don’t miss tests or when they pay body doubles to replace them in IELTS speaking tests. By relaxed, I mean that developing an ‘exam mentality’ or being mentally prepared for the exam is useful. The trip to the centre, having breaks and doing the speaking after the other papers all in a professional ‘exam centre’ seems logical. Far better than leaving your maths class for 15 minutes to go to your usual classroom and do a speaking test for 15 minutes.

I am also against testing because of the backwash/washback effect it can have. In my last department students wouldn’t do anything unless it was for TOEIC so the first year, they were tested with TOEIC and had TOEIC-ish classes, then they did a TOEIC prep class and did the test and all failed then did another prep class and so on. Over 20% left with no diploma as they failed 4 times and missed out on lots of other courses. If we’d tested them on what they had learned, then I could have passed them. But companies demand the TOEIC, so we do it even though most students admit they will never need English and that they actually don’t need to speak/write, but what the heck, why rock the boat? This ‘failing culture’ makes some places look ‘superior’ and makes the exam companies and publishers lots of money. Teachers rake it in for extra classes and students re-sit classes, so it is actually in the interests of such schools to fail students. I do NOT agree with this at all!

Chia:  It sounds like what is needed is some kind of standardization of these exams and for teachers to recommend students to embrace exams for the positive backwash it can offer, rather than the negative ones. Perhaps it is the responsibility of the teachers involved and the examiners to provide appropriate feedback to the exam boards so that the exams can be more reliable, and not just be concerned about face validity.

Don’t you think that the professional teacher should be choosing the appropriate tests to suit their students’ needs, and guiding students by ensuring that the exam provides some structure to their learning process but doesn’t become the only goal in their learners’ journey?

Phil: Yes, feedback to exam boards is needed. IELTS do lots of research on the effects and use of their test, which is brilliant, but it still remains ‘an exam entrance test’ for many, while FCE, CAE are ‘exams for life’ which is silly as when you are 90 you probably won’t be as good….

You try telling students what test to take, good luck! They all have a goal and they choose TOELF, TOEIC or IELTS for university. The traditional way was TOEFL for the US and Koreans and French still love TOEIC. I have encouraged students to do CAE/CPE/BEC but if they aren’t motivated enough they wouldn’t put enough work in. I had 1 girl who had done FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS and TOEIC. Why? Because her teachers needed measurable goals….

We got lots of low levels demanding high scores. I know that some schools are proud of their ‘100% pass rates’ and do this by only prepping students who already could pass…..

Chia:  Wait a minute. You were talking about negative backwash earlier and how students became obsessed with preparing for the exams. Shouldn’t exams be about testing the students’ existing levels? Why then the need of exam preparation classes? Don’t exam preparation classes do all the things that you disagreed with earlier? – You said that some schools just teach students exam strategies and as a result…’They all just memorize answers and paste them together but it’s often enough to get 5/5.5. They also ‘crack the codes’ allegedly by analyzing so many reading/listening papers that they know what works and even the style of the papers.’

Exam preparation classes shouldn’t exist. Students can do the practice tests on their own so as to familiarize with the test format. But ultimately, for an exam to be reliable in testing the students’ level, there shouldn’t be any preparation classes to help students fool the examiners…

Phil: I’ve had CPE+ students who decided to do the test for fun and passed but they got help. Teacher advised books, gave them tips and did mock speaking exercises with them….

There is an increasing amount of self-prep stuff out there from books to online stuff. There are even online courses with video F2F speaking tests and written analyzed essay marking. This blended approach is very good and is developing.

I wouldn’t say the prep class are there to fool the examiners but some are. The reason is demand. Students will get what they want if they have money. They are so obsessed due to parental pressure that they buy these ‘crash courses’. Some are also so busy that they have no option. I’m sure you have prepared for a test and not just revised everything you did. It’s like a driving lesson where you practice on the test route…

If, and I do emphasize IF, you insist on subjecting your poor emotionally distraught students to taking a test then prepare them with info about the format, the question types, how to answer them, time management tips, common topics and give them some practice. I really hate the ‘test by testing’ approach, which is based on the belief that students will get better by just doing tests while teachers go get a coffee.

Chia:  But there’s a thin line between giving students tips and exam strategies, and giving them templates and ‘codes to crack’, isn’t there?

Phil:  But give them the choice and which would they choose?

1. Here are lots of tips which may or may not be useful or

2. Here is an essay template you can use to answer any FOR/AG essay and get 5.

Chia:  They would choose to pass the exam and get good grades of course.

And whichever is the path of least resistance…

Phil:  Dada. Human nature.

Chia:  Therefore, because it is so difficult to draw that distinction between giving helpful tips and help with exam preparation and feeding the student with the way to getting the grade they want, shouldn’t exam preparation classes just be banned?

Phil:  Oh, Sneaky! I doubt most teachers (me included) know these tricks so it probably isn’t a problem but I really do think an exam teacher should get to know the exam they are teaching very well. They should know how it’s structured, how texts are designed and thus tested, common questions/topics and then help their students prepare at their own level.

There are some excellent BC webinars by Sam McCarter who just says he uses a text to prepare his students and get them to look at what could be tested and how. This is very useful and better than a 2-hour lesson of endless reading exercises. The same goes for a speaking/discussion class that brings in language, grammar and finally transfers it to an exam style. We can teach exams in a useful way and not just do exam style stuff that students soon get tired of. Last year, some colleagues and I did this and I was surprised that almost half of the classes were made up of students who did not want to take the test at all but enjoyed the classes and learned a lot. That was their motivation.

Chia:  Ah ha! So you are admitting that exams can be a source of motivation for students and can serve as a cherry on top of the cake…the cake being the enjoyable language learning that they are involved with that is designed not just solely to help them get better exam scores but also to improve their overall proficiency of English, thus helping them to achieve their personal goals and provide a return on their investment too?

Phil: I knew you’d say that. Sorry to burst your balloon but these students liked the class because they didn’t want to do the alternative, which was a TOEIC test test test prep class. They came to IELTS and just relaxed and still passed the TOEIC with high scores. These students were also happy, very happy to learn GE as they had never had it before, so in comparison to learning about plugs, electrical engineering and doing Scientific writing it was the most fun they’d ever had. In a language school students should be doing these topics already….

Chia: I suppose the type of test and what it is testing, and how the exam prep class is conducted, can make a big difference. TOEIC, although popular with the companies in Japan and Korea, simply isn’t reliable and students who take it are merely exposed to the negative backwash of retaking the test until they get the score they desire. On the other hand, a format like IELTS, although less practical and therefore more expensive to administer than TOEIC, seems much more reliable and IELTS exam preparation classes allow for flexibility and opportunities for students to actually make progress in their general level of English.

Phil:  Yes, I knew a kid who had done TOEIC 8 times. He was burnt out. I would agree that IELTS is probably the best and most regular test at the moment and the inclusion of speaking and writing can make a good class but the average coursebook doesn’t focus enough on those productive elements which most students get lowest marks in.

Chia:  So you are not entirely against tests or testing then, Phil?

Phil:  I am against exams taking over courses and schools and the negative effects they can have. I used to have students who had tests every week and they just went from cramming 1 to cramming another and learnt nothing. But, we can’t escape. They are still needed and useful and despite all the drawbacks will continue to be useful for quite a while.

Chia:  Indeed. Sorry for setting up some naughty little traps for you, Phil. I was after all playing DA…

Phil:  No, it was very funny!

Epilogue: Phil and Chia are still PLN-buddies who regularly banter on Twitter. Phil still works with exams and exam preparation courses, and any opinions expressed are Phil’s own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was only playing DA, as usual.

Devil’s Advocate vs Dale Coulter on Dogme and Newly Qualified Teachers

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views and justify them.

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

Second on the hot seat is Dale Coulter

Dale currently finds himself in Rome where he is an English teacher.  He specialises in Dogme and reflective practice in teaching, both of which he has spoken about at ELT conferences in the past year. You can find out more on his blog here. Or follow him on Twitter here.

Chia:  Hi Dale, are you ready to be DA-ed?

Dale:  Hi Chia, great to be speaking to you, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for a DA-ing.

Chia: It is a well-known fact that you are a Dogmetician who have been practising Dogme ever since you finished your Celta. Many would argue that newly-qualified teachers (NQs) should not be attempting Dogme. What would you say to that?

Dale:  Interesting point, Chia. As a teacher trainer what would you say are the reasons why you’d be skeptical about your trainees attempting Dogme?

Chia:  Answering a question with a question…very cunning, Dale… Well, there are several reasons for the CELTA trainers’ skepticism.

For starters, NQs are not experienced or skilled enough to be dealing with emergent language and reacting to spontaneous and specific needs…

Dale: True, the teaching practice element in CELTA courses does not provide enough classroom time to prepare a teacher thoroughly to react to emergent language. Mind you, attempting a Dogme lesson doesn’t mean throwing the book out the window and unplugging your whole course. For instance, my first Dogme lesson was a 1 hour 15 minute slot as part of a three hour lesson. I think that somewhat minimises the the risk of ‘failure’, wouldn’t you say?

Chia:  Not really, because you could still have a 1 hour 15 minute flop, which could lose your credibility and destroy your confidence…something that NQs don’t need. NQs need confidence-boosting experiences, don’t you think?

Dale:  Definitely, a complete flop using any teaching method or approach is a big dent in the confidence of any teacher, not just an NQ. You need to be prepared for the lesson. Emergent language doesn’t just emerge on its own; the teacher needs to know how to exploit language opportunities in the classroom. It is also about the language the teacher selects to deal with, and how it is dealt with. I was definitely reassured by the fact that I had some experience of being guided towards learning to deal with emergent language from my teaching practice on the CELTA. We can’t underestimate the importance of knowing what ’emergent language’ is and what it means to deal with.

Take an experienced teacher who tried Dogme, for example. What if their lesson was a failure and they failed to react to students’ emerging needs and the language they were producing? I don’t think this is a criticism that can be soley aimed at NQs.

Chia: On a CELTA, one can get experience of dealing with emergent language through teaching practice, but they are mostly lexical items. What about grammar? Most NQs don’t know their grammar well enough to be able to deal with the questions or the emerging reformulations that are needed.

You said so yourself in a post on your own blog on November 12th (reflections on Tesol France) that NQs often think, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about grammar, I am terrified that my students might ask me questions’. This is from your blog.

Dale: I knew that one would come back and bite me one day. Jokes aside, what’s to say an NQ can’t pick up a grammar book and read it? Take a proactive approach to it by dealing with the lack of knowledge. Obviously you can’t read up on the grammar of the English language in one week, which is something I realised too, so I chose to do Dogme with a class that is least likely to throw up difficult questions: an intermediate level. After all, when teaching Dogme, you can always guide the conversation towards areas that you know students may have difficulties with – to make your life easier, and secondly, research those areas and make sure you feel confident to answer questions about them.

You know they don’t know X or Y and you can guide them towards that, almost like leading them towards a cliff then when they reach the edge, building them a bridge to the other side

Chia: Is that then not really Dogme? It sounds more like a planned lesson where you have manipulated the needs…

Dale: In that case, I guess I’m not a Dogmetician then, I just manipulate conversation driven lessons around the needs of my students and work with the language they produce. Guilty as charged…hahaha

Chia: Stop acting cute, Dale. But in all seriousness, conversation lessons can sound like a chat. As many opponents have said, Dogme could be seen as ‘winging it elevated to an art form’… Couldn’t students get that from sitting in a pub? Where’s the structure?

Dale: Of course, I’ve heard that one a million times before… for me Dogme has always been a manifestation of principled eclecticism in the classroom. It’s not like you’re hashing a lesson together at random, you’re providing the most suitable solution to what has emerged, which, obviously a NQ would have some difficulty with on a long-term basis, but generalising that all of them couldn’t I think is a bit of an insult to the ability of an NQ.

By the way, I remember one of my trainers saying that to me “a speaking activity should give students something more than they could get in the pub” …

Chia: And how do you give them that extra that they can’t get in a pub?

Dale: Well, firstly I think there’s a difference between conversation-driven and a conversation lesson. The former implies that conversation is the vehicle with which learners and the teacher arrive at their destination, the latter is like conversation as a road to learning, which is where some cynics have their doubts.

It’s a teachers’ job to pick on thematic or linguistic elements of conversation-driven time and use them for lesson content, that way what is taught is immediate and contextualised.

Chia: Yes, but NQs will not be able to differentiate between conversation lessons and  conversation-driven lessons, needless to say have the confidence or ability to pick out linguistic elements to use as lesson content simultaneously and spontaneously.

Having linguistic aims prepared and how these aims are to be achieved in each stage of the procedure does not only provide structure for the NQs but also for the students. Jeremy Harmer said that Dogme is like ‘jungle-path teaching’, i.e. a lesson with no plan and structure, and therefore no continuity…

Dale: So you are going to quote Harmer at me, are you? Let me quote one of my classes back to you. They said they believed I prepared more than any other teacher and that my lessons were very structured and organised. Doesn’t that pay tribute to the fact that Dogme is a form of principled eclecticism working on a materials-light level. Didn’t you yourself call it Improvised Principled Eclecticism?

Chia: Sshhh, don’t tell anyone, Dale. I’m trying to play Devil’s Advocate here.

Dale: No, you’ve raised a good point there about the perceived lack of structure. I think it’s a criticism levelled at Dogme very frequently.

Chia:  So what do you do in your Dogme classes that helps students to feel that they are well-prepared and well-structured?

Dale: I have always applied a lot of what I learned in CELTA and then subsequently in DELTA. You see, lesson stages, as such, still exist: there is still a stage in which you check meaning or form, practice, review, drill, feedback, practice. The difference is that they are not rigid in a Dogme lesson; stages are at your disposal when they are necessary, if they are necessary. Students feel like it’s structured because it is structured.

Chia: Are you therefore saying that it is important to teach CELTA trainees to write lesson aims and and execute the procedures and lesson stages they have planned? Isn’t that contradictory to Dogme principles?

Dale: Well, the teaching of linguistic aims, lesson plans, lesson procedures, achievement of aims etc is easier to teach directly to trainees, in the sense of transferring information from A to B.

By the same token it’s easier to assess and benchmark to decide on a general standard. Is this contradictory to Dogme? Without the foundational backbone that lesson aims and procedures provide, a lesson lacks structure, which is why I consider them to be important as a foundation to build on.

However, identifying positive teaching behaviours in trainees like dealing with emergent language, building on them and reinforcing them with positive feedback corresponds more with the demands on a Dogmetician. I’d say a lot of the cynicism about Dogme and NQs stems from the fact that training does not cover these areas. The ability however is there, it just needs pulling out.

Chia: The thing is Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared. NQs often are still struggling with these aspects and are not going to be as able to cope with combining them in a flexible and improvised manner.

Dale: Exactly, it takes a long time to become an expert in these areas, which required years of practice, positive models to follow and experience in the classroom, so why are we not focusing on these things right from the beginning, to give trainees a better start?

Chia: You sure you’re not digging yourself into a hole there, Dale? You’re right, it takes lots of years of experience honing the skill of dealing with emergent language. If done badly, it could either result in all talk and no language work, or even worse, teacher-centred explanations and lectures that are contradictory to the communicative approach to teaching.

Dale:  But Chia it takes time to refine the skill and the road is a long one. Which comes back to my point that why aren’t we starting the journey straight away?

And on the topic of communicative language teaching… many teachers work under different definitions of ‘communicative’, and there’s disparity between their ideas and what others consider it to be…but that’s another topic for a sequel to my first DA, perhaps?

Chia:  So you’re enjoying this grilling enough to come back again then? ; )

But, honestly, a common point made by CELTA trainers is the fact that many coming on courses like the CELTA already think that teaching English should be relatively easy simply because English is their native tongue. Introducing NQs to Dogme and dealing with emergent language at such an early stage of their teaching can mislead them into thinking that chatting with their students in English is all they need to do…into mistakenly believing that Dogme is easy.

Dale:  A very good point. You could also say that trainees may be misled into thinking that following the instructions in the teacher’s book, doing the practice exercises in the back of the book and teaching from page 1-100 is all they need to do. Coming back to Dogme though, I think in these cases the better-judgement of the trainer is needed. As I’m sure you know, each group of trainees is different from the last; some groups are stronger, some are weaker. Introducing elements of Dogme to a stronger group, pushing them to deal with emergent language and use their knowledge of the English language to help students pushes the trainees to their  i+1. To a weaker group though, I will admit that it is not a good idea to encourage them to use Dogme and could lead to such opinions. Like a hierarchy of needs, Dogme lies at the top and lower levels need to be satisfied first.

Chia: Are you therefore saying that Dogme can or should only be attempted if and when trainees are able to use the coursebook and when they are able to deal with shaping a traditional PPP/Test-Teach-Test/Guided Discovery lesson from pre-assumed lesson aims?

Dale: I think trainees should have the benefit of a ‘backbone’ to English language teaching, as I mentioned earlier, it gives them an invaluable introduction to the profession. With a stronger group that grasps these concepts with ease, and one whose beliefs about teaching fit with the ideas behind, then I would say yes. I think it’s up to the trainer(s) to assess the level of the group and provide suitable challenge for them. I think I’ve touched on another point here that’s important: how Dogme fits with a teacher’s developing belief structure.

Chia: What do you mean by that?

Dale: Well, let’s face it, everyone believes languages are learned and taught in a different way and some teachers just don’t see Dogme as a way of playing to their teaching strengths and/or compatible with what they believe about SLA.

If there is a group containing many trainees who have the experience of learning another language, the experience of being a language student, and from this have understood the need for communication, immediacy and sensitivity to students needs, then it makes a more fitting environment in which to attempt Dogme.

Chia: Hang on, Dale. I’ve got two questions I’d like to ask here…

1. Are you saying that if the trainees do not believe in the need for communication and immediacy, that if they believe in that languages are learnt by grammar translation or the Direct Method, or by completing countless gap-fill exercises, then we should not encourage them to attempt Dogme?

2. Are you saying that native speakers who have never learnt another language and have no experience of being a language student would be far less suited to Dogme?

Dale:  Ok, I’ll take your first question. No, I’m not saying we should settle for this and simple pander to their needs. I referred to a kind of hierarchy earlier. In this case, guided-discovery, test-teach-test etc would be the next level on the hierarchy. In this situation, a trainee must train to level and encouraging them to attempt Dogme would be pitching too high, don’t you think?

In response to your second question, I think that non-native speakers or native speakers who have had some form of language instruction/experience of learning another language have in their possession key abilities for Dogme and for teaching. One of them is empathy with their students, which makes a teacher more sensitive to students’ needs, both emotional and linguistic.

Chia: Interesting points there. Can I take this debate on a slightly different direction?

We have so far been arguing about the ability for NQs to use Dogme in conversation-driven lessons with language focus. How about the other skills like reading, listening and writing?

The Importance of Listening in Class

Dale:  As a Dogmetician, I’m sure you’ve considered this as well yourself.

Chia: Dale…I keep telling you, I’m not talking to you as a Dogmetician at the moment…only as a DA…

Dale: Sorry, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference, especially when I’m used to you playing the role of DA consistently in daily life anyway.

Back to the point, we bang on about being sensitive to our students’ needs and responding to them, but what if these needs are specific to writing/reading/listening? This throws up another question: how does a NQ handle these without coursebook materials?

It’s a good question and it focuses us even more on the difference between attempting some Dogme lessons and being a Dogmetician. Materials-light is sometimes confused with materials-free, and it would be wrong to think you can’t use materials altogether. Certainly if this were the case, skills that require materials would not receive focus. A Dogmetician, in my opinion, selects materials to teach skills which can be exploited for conversation, engage learners and provide space to deal with difficulties learners have when practising those skills.

I think some NQs would have trouble teaching reading, writing and listening skills without the supportive framework of materials. On the other hand, if a NQ wants to use authentic materials, use learner generated and produced materials, then shouldn’t we be supportive in this pursuit? After all, isn’t that what assignment 3 of CELTA is trying to encourage anyway?

Chia: What kind of materials could an NQ use to focus on such skills that still keeps the lesson a Dogme one?

Dale: I would recommend short texts, both listening and reading, and authentic. Your ideas for using BBC news were very helpful for me, also short newspaper articles, parts of short stories or even teacher-written texts. In creating tasks, try and move away from testing comprehension and encourage students to interact with the text, pick out language they identify as useful, share ideas about a text, have them create the questions, have them respond to the text, rewrite it.

Chia: NQs would have greater difficulty in selecting authentic texts and creating tasks for their learners, in addition to the previously-discussed ability to pull out appropriate language for learners to focus on and dealing with them in sufficient detail.

Dale: You’re right there Chia, in selecting appropriate language and creating tasks, experience puts you at a great advantage. That’s why, just like emergent language, it’s better to get NQs practising asap.

Chia: Wait…if you are using such materials, what then is the difference between a Dogme lesson and a non-Dogme one?

Dale: Maybe there isn’t much of a difference.

Chia: Maybe it’s just good teaching.

Dale: Maybe the labels aren’t important.

Chia: Yeah, maybe it’s the learners’ motivation and needs that should take centre stage.

Dale: Maybe Dogme is a platform that provides the most space for this in the classroom.

Chia: Maybe.

Dale: Wow. That was intense.

Chia: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat.

Dale: It’s been a great pleasure, Chia.

Epilogue: Dale and Chia still argue like siblings at a family Christmas dinner. They also love each other, especially when the exchanging of expensive gifts is involved… Dale was only expressing his own views and does not represent any organisation he’s associated with. Chia is, in fact, a Dogmetician too. She was only playing DA.

Devil’s Advocate vs Mike Hogan on Business English Teaching and Training

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). We concluded that the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views as we attempt to justify them.

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype.  The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project.

So the first victim in the hot seat is my co-conspirator, Mike Hogan.  

Mike currently gives communication skills training to corporate clients based in Germany. He also creates bespoke training concepts for clients and advises clients, training providers and publishers on issues relating to corporate training. Mike is also a Business English coursebook writer. Find out more about him here and follow him on Twitter here.

Chia : The area of Business English teaching is a very grey one…It is often unclear as to whether the BE teacher is teaching English or teaching Business skills.

While some say the two should not and cannot be separated, and that BE teachers should also be well-versed in business, others say that we are simply not paid enough to act as consultants.

Mike: Hi Chia, you’ve definitely brought up an interesting and relevant topic, but before we delve into it, I think you’re confusing the different job/roles.

Consultants and business English teachers are simply not the same thing

Chia : Pray tell. What are the differences?

Mike: Well, before we look at that, let’s just focus first on the BE teacher and what’s expected of them. What is their task?

Chia : What WHO is expecting of them? The clients? The TEFL BE specialists? The layperson? Everyone seems to have a different definition of what is expected of the BE teacher. Some expect a course in Business, some expect communication skills, some expect presentation or negotiation skills, some just want some grammar…

Mike : Right, so you’ve listed communications skills, presentations & negotiation skills and grammar….. We’re getting closer to the big 6: Telephoning, Correspondence, Presentations, Meetings, Negotiations, Socializing/Small Talk. These are the skills which most course books cover, and also those listed in books like:

How to Teach Business English                         or                                                                                                                The Business English Teacher

Chia : So are you saying that the definition of a BE teacher is one that teaches English used to carry out those 6 skills and what is expected of a trainer or a consultant is different then?

Mike : Yes, those ‘6’ are certainly what seems to be expected from a BE teacher , although not limited to those. The expectations of the latter two are fundamentally different, as is what they deliver.

Let’s stick with ‘teacher’ for a moment though. A teacher can come into BE teaching from a number of areas, right? Although it’s often though the CELTA route, right?

Chia : Yes.

Mike : Ok, and many of those may not have had what one might call “professional” business experience before doing their CELTA. (I include myself among them).

So, then those starting out lack the practical experience and knowledge of business meetings and presentations necessary to train their learners. They teach from the coursebooks provided to them and use them as the basis from which to further their own knowledge of said subjects.

As Frendo puts it in the aforementioned book, “a teacher is someone who teaches (for general purposes of general improvement). A trainer is someone who is required to change a person’s behaviour or ability so that they can do a specific job. Training is job-oriented.”

Chia: Isn’t that simply rhetoric? Take the English teaching field outside of BE for example. We call them teachers but many would be pretty up in arms if you were to suggest that they were just teaching for ‘general improvement’. We live in a world of ‘niche markets’ and English teaching is becoming more and more needs-based than ever.

Does that mean that outside of BE, all teachers who attempt a needs-based, job-oriented focus is a trainer?

Mike: Hold on… “Teacher as coach is someone who can help the learner to take advantage of the learning opportunities in their learning environments … to better understand their own strengths/weaknesses, and plan accordingly. This is related to learner autonomy, where the learner takes full responsibility for their learning.” They generally work in-company – as does the trainer – as opposed to within a school environment, a place where ‘the teacher’ is often found.

Chia: All the definitions you are giving seems like pure rhetoric to me. The word ‘general’ in General English is a misnomer. Most experienced teachers will tell you that… And any teacher engaged in 1-to-1 classes will without doubt be using goal-oriented needs-based lessons… You are just giving me definitions after definitions…

Mike: And as you’ve said above, yes the teaching world is a world of niche markets and I wasn’t aiming at making a sweeping statement about what teachers do or what they call themselves, but fundamentally, the definitions are there and they are different from each other. This is how they can be distinguished.

Chia: The boundaries between a teacher, a trainer, and a consultant is not always that clear in real life.

Mike: I haven’t mentioned consultant yet … and yes, there’s a huge difference here: experience and what they do.

Consultants are neither “teaching” nor “training”, but can use their expertise to run needs analyses within companies, create training concepts, analyse the structures in place within, potentially recommend training suppliers, conduct negotiations (rather than ‘teach’ the language for them, or ‘train’ the skill)…and so on.

Following my point of experience (just above) – a consultant (or coach) very often has ‘real’ business experience…and their educational background may well have been a business MA rather than one in TESOL.

Am I getting closer to not just using rhetoric to highlight the differences?

[Note: that was in no way a value statement relating to either type of MA, and I have great amounts of respect for anyone who further their development through further learning, regardless of what it is they’re learning. It should be relevant to them, their needs and direction].

And over the years teachers may, yes, develop into trainers, and from there into coaches or consultants … but it also comes with continual development and not just teaching experience.

Further training and also often ‘real’ business experience are necessary to make that leap/step…as well as the implementation of many of the skills found in our BE course books, i.e. marketing, networking, presentations and negotiations … in order to ‘place’ oneself.

Wikipedia: “Business English means different things to different people. For some, it focuses on vocabulary and topics used in the worlds of business, trade, finance, and international relations. For others it refers to the communication skills used in the workplace, and focuses on the language and skills needed for typical business communication such as presentations, negotiations, meetings, small talk, socializing, correspondence, report writing, and so on.”

Chia: As you have so clearly just shown with your wiki definition of BE, the boundaries aren’t always clear…But don’t you think that part of the issue in the Business world is a failure for clients to recognise what the BE teacher/trainer/coach does? (I’m going to leave out consultant as you have clearly shown that that warrants a whole different discussion) And thus the status of the BE teacher/trainer/coach isn’t clear too

Mike: I believe that one should tread lightly when using the term ‘coach’ as it can often be misconstrued in the psychological or life coach sense … and also in the business coach sense …which is getting closer to the consultant definition I gave above.

Chia: What I’m saying is a lot of BE teachers might be doing the very things that you defined as what a trainer, or even a coach does … but just because of where they work and how they package themselves, they don’t earn the same title and therefore the same remuneration.

Mike: I’m sorry, I have to disagree.

As I’ve just said above … the coach uses very many different techniques to the teacher or trainer. ‘Coaching Toolkit for Business English Trainers’  aims to looks at some of the differences and highlight coaching approaches which can be used be those thinking about making the transition or expanding their own skill set. It’s been co-authored by a Business English trainer who has re-trained as a coach (Anna Stowers) – which also follows my previous point about (continual) development.

So, can we please remove that designation from your objections above and focus then on the distinction between teacher and trainer?

Chia: OK, fair point. I recede.

Mike: I thought you would. ; )  Anyway, coming back to ‘where they work’ and ‘how they package themselves’ and that ‘they don’t earn the same title or remuneration’.

Does a doctor who works in his/her own specialist practice earn more than a ‘general’ ‘non-specialist’ doctor working in a hospital?

Does a mechanic who works for a Formula 1 team make more than the guy around the corner who fixes my car?

Chia: A doctor’s or a F1 mechanic’s specialist knowledge isn’t quite the common sense knowledge that a business trainer needs…

Mike: But are you agreeing that specialist knowledge is worth a higher fee?

Chia: Yes. But common sense packaged as specialist knowledge isn’t necessarily that specialist.

Mike: Ok, and are you also then saying that business (English) trainers’ knowledge of business need just be that at a level of ‘common’ sense?

Chia: It depends on how you define common sense, which of course as we know isn’t that common.

Mike: Common = most people know it.

Chia: Common sense isn’t quite common as such. It’s an ability for logical thinking and as defined by Merriam-Webster as, “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.”

It’s an ability to make such judgment – an ability that could be honed from experience, or be instinctive…

But certainly not the same kind of specialist knowledge that a doctor has…

Mike: Yes, there are very many excellent teachers out there, with very high levels of ‘common sense’ that would also make excellent trainers, but common sense is not enough. ‘Specialist’ knowledge of how business works is also necessary. For such people, with (or without) prior professional experience, investing in professional development could greatly help, such as the Cert iBet, or an Intercultural Trainer’s Cert … as is attending the conferences where we see each other and our peers. That combined with practice, i.e. the experience I was talking about earlier, will help them to make the next steps in their career (if they decide to want to go in that direction).

OK, given your background in trading , or sales & marketing … If you were giving BE teaching/training to a group of sales/marketing people or traders, do you not think that you’d be able to relate more to them and their needs than someone who has no idea of these industries (and may not be flexible enough to take a Dogme approach to it)?

Chia: I like the way you sneakily slip Dogme in there to get me on your side… But not today, Mike…not today…

Mike: Well, as I’ve said before (today), the concepts behind Dogme aren’t new (in Business English) teaching, and people teaching/training in this industry need to be particularly adaptable to the needs of their learners.

Chia: Absolutely. But again, I take you back to the initial argument. Most good teachers already practise some form of principled eclectism, which by definition is needs-based.

On my Celta courses, I spend the whole month getting my trainees to elicit, to deal with emergent language, to work with learners’ interests and learners’ needs … even at a Celta level, one could claim that I’m training them to be trainers rather than teachers as such … after all, isn’t that what the communicative approach to teaching about? So is there really a difference between trainer and teacher?

Mike: Yes, there is – context, expectations, delivery, experience, ability, (possible) specialization … and not necessarily location …

There is a growing importance of and focus on improved performance in the workplace rather than mere language level practice and improvement. This means more importance is being given to the level of transfer between what is covered by the TRAINER and how applicable that is in learners’ working lives. It’s not enough for learners to be able to successfully complete activities, role-plays and simulations in training sessions. They need to complete their professional tasks more successfully.

OK. let’s try a different angle…

Do you call yourself a trainer?

Chia : No

Mike: Why not? If it’s just a matter of rhetoric (as you say) and results in higher rates for doing the same thing?? Then it would be a no-brainer to call yourself one, right?

Chia: Because I work for a school and it says ‘teacher’ on my pay slip. Which is exactly my point… I could be doing all the things a trainer does but labels only matter if you are a free-lancer… Thus, my point being, the labels are not about what we do, it’s about who we work for and how much we get paid. In an ideal world, we would be defined by the duties we perform, but in actuality, it is about the marketing and being the free-lancer and not about the job we do as such…

Purely playing Devil’s Advocate, don’t you think it’s extremely unfair that we have to do the marketing and repackaging of ourselves to ‘fool’ the clients into thinking we aren’t the bog-standard ‘English teacher’. Shouldn’t we instead be trying to change the lay person’s view of what an English teacher does so as to ensure they understand the impact we can have on their communicative competencies in their businesses? Shouldn’t we be trying to educate the lay person instead of trying to differentiate ourselves from English teachers?

Mike: We’re not re-packaging ourselves and I don’t know what you mean by ‘bog standard’ teacher. Who is the lay person? Our client?? and what sort of ‘fooling’ are we doing? Regardless of what our clients’ expectations of what a BE teacher is or isn’t.

I believe the best way to fulfill clients needs is to find out what they are (rather than telling them what they are – based on what we want to sell), to consult them and clearly identify their needs then those of their organisation. The person consulting is not necessarily the teacher/trainer/deliverer. It is quite often a centre manager, sales person, external consultant, etc. Then a suitable programme/offer/course/package can be put together for an appropriate fee, with the appropriate type of professional taking care of the delivery.

The key word is ‘appropriate’. Then we can ensure that our client’s needs (and expectations) are met. …and this type of consultancy work should be done be a consultant who can draw on the necessary and appropriate resources to deliver.

Appropriate meaning; what does this individual, group or client need? A teacher, trainer, coach or mix of all.

As I said above, the consultant and the training/coaching/teaching provider are not necessarily one and the same person, but they could be – although as you’ve indirectly pointed out, this could lead to a conflict of expectation in terms of rates.

…and responding to your comment above; there are many (training) institutions which use trainer to delivery their training – drawing on the differences highlighted at the top, and so it’s the distinction is not limited to whether the provider of the service is in a ‘school’ (or agency), or in-company.

Mike: Further to my comment earlier about trainers, coaches and consultants often have business training backgrounds rather than TESOL MA and such, I also think that training of the type that our participants get, i.e. active business people, would also be potentially very useful. I’m talking about fundamental training in the principles of project management, team leadership and such areas. Such training would give the basis for increased insight into business communication and business practices, which again serve to draw a distinction between the titles of professional we are talking about. They could be useful for people aiming to further develop in the fields of corporate training.

In addition, training in international competency development could also be beneficial. There are many specialist course available for thse coming from Business English teaching background, such as those offered by Barry Tomalin at IH, London; Adrian Pilbeam at LTC Bath; York Associates or WorldWork in the UK; or Skylight in Germany.

Yes, it’s about where we do it and how much we get paid, but crucially, it is also about WHAT we do.  Training is about training someone for a change in their behaviour, or ability so that they can do a SPECIFIC job. It’s context based and led by situation … and not just because unit5 of the book deals with business trips and negotiations. [Aside: IF you work with course books, they need to be flexible and adaptable with opportunity for personalization]

Chia: Sure. You can call that training and I can call that good teaching and continual professional development…

Mike: OK fine, but there is a difference in the terms/titles used, built upon (further) training, practical (i.e. business) experience, client expectations, and what is actually being delivered. There are also some key qualities necessary, including, but not limited to, openness, desire to self-improve/invest, ability to become an ‘expert’ in your clients’ field quickly, and others. Maybe we can save the rest for a sequel?

Chia: Thank you, Mike. That is a really concise summary of what we discussed. Sorry for giving you a hard time.


Come back soon for the next DA session, with a new person in the hot seat.

Chia

Epilogue: Mike & Chia are still friends! Mike’s opinions are his own and do not represent any organization he is associated with. Chia was just playing DA.