My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The first coffee break was spent gawking at the size of the exhibition hall this year, and greeting old friends and online friends who were not at the PCE or Karaoke event the night before (Hi @SandyMillin !). In fact, we got so caught up by it all that we had not noticed that all of us were heading in the same direction for the next talk: Anthony Gaughan’s The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.

The room was full by the time we got there, and many of us experienced our first conference disappointment. Thankfully, Mike (@irishmikeh) had reserved two seats and we managed to get in…I then came out two seconds later to loudly announce to James (@theteacherjames) that Mike had reserved him a seat too (it was my first ever conference lie!), thus getting him past the ‘bouncer’ who clearly had missed a huge career opportunity in riot control. This very same scary ‘bouncer’ came in several minutes before Anthony’s talk to chase out the couple of people who were sitting on the floor (What kind of TEFL conference is it when no one’s allowed to sit on the floor???) and lecture us on how we are not allowed to ‘reserve’ seats by putting our belongings on them. James, Mike and I simply kept our heads down and hoped that she wouldn’t notice that the 3 of us were sharing 2 seats…

I certainly felt like a schoolgirl, hoping, with all fingers crossed behind my back, that the discipline master wouldn’t find out that we had been eating in the classroom…

Now, back to Anthony Gaughan’s talk.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Anthony starts by telling us the 3 things he was not going to.

He was not going to tell us anything we don’t already know;

He was not going to ask why we were there;

And he was not going to get us to agree with him.

This set the relaxed mood for his entire talk, in which he skillfully went through the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT (as shown below) and debunked each of them, always reminding us never to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Photo by Mike Hogan

1.    Repetition Drilling

Starting with espousing behaviourism and reminding us that language is much more a habit than we realize, and that we can make what we drill meaningful by utilizing substitution drills etc.

2.    Translation and the Use of L1

One common criticism is that L1 can’t be used in multilingual classes, but a quick show of hands immediately showed us that monolingual classes are in fact the majority.

Another criticism is that translation does not encourage students to think in English. Anthony goes on to question, ‘But who says your students are thinking in English anyway?’

He then goes on to suggest ways of using L1, e.g. mini-text translation, asking ‘fifth skill questions’ and using the L1 to contrast with L2.

3.    Students using dictionaries in class

Is using dictionaries time-wasting? Anthony wonders why some might feel that teaching learners to work things out for themselves is not time well-spent.

4.    Teacher explanations

There’s nothing wrong with explanations, Anthony asserts, saying that students would feel cheated if they paid you, the expert, and instead, you try to constantly elicit from them, leaving them unclear.

The issue here is the quality of the explanations. Students stop listening when the answers are unclear, too long or abstract, or when it is not answering their question. Perhaps learning to give good explanations, rather than getting rid of them completely is key.

5.    Reading texts aloud in class

Anthony’s 3 commandments for reading aloud:

  • Insert lines to show breaks and pauses in text (to help with phonological chunking)
  • Bold fonts for main stress (or nucleus)
  • Mark parts of text where students can give attention to weak forms and linking.

6.    Telling students they are wrong

Correcting mistakes upsets students? Anthony blames Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis for teachers tip-toeing around students and being afraid to correct them. He maintains that it is all in the approach (can we correct them in a supportive and gentle/friendly manner?) and that all learners want feedback.

7.    Teacher talk time

Just as there aren’t any issues with teacher explanations as long as they are good ones, there are no issues with teacher talk time as long as they are good quality ones.

Photo by Mike Hogan

All in all, one of the best talks this conference! Thought-provoking, attitude-challenging, and definitely full of great teaching ideas!

It of course didn’t hurt that these were 7 points that I totally agree with Anthony on.

Perhaps potentially 7 more Devil’s Advocate installments with Anthony that are possible here? *wink*

Click here to have a read of my Devil’s Advocate (DA) with Anthony Gaughan on teacher training.

For more updates on Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow, watch this space…

…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 4 – Dave Willis on Grammar

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.



After Adrian Underhill’s plenary, the thousands of TEFLers filtered out of the auditorium towards the different talks.
The first I went to was Dave Willis’s ‘Focus on Grammar: learning processes and teaching strategies’. Dave Willis had come to my IATEFL talk last year on Systemic Functional Grammar and through the Q & A session, it beame obvious that we had similar views on grammar (if I had read his book ‘Rules, Patterns and Words’, I really would have noticed that sooner…what kind of teacher am I?) and the way they are oversimplified and dealt with badly in most ELT coursebooks.

In his 2012 IATEFL talk, Dave Willis highlighted that current pedagogic methodology often focuses on ‘recognition’ but only touches lightly on ‘systems building’ and often even neglects the ‘exploration’ stage of the learning of patterns. With specific reference to the English verb system (tense, aspect, modality), Dave asserts that making contrasts, e.g. between the present continuous and the present simple, can lead to false generalisations. Using examples of the present continuous for daily routines and habits, e.g. ‘We are usually having breakfast around then’, he warns against the overgeneralization of grammar rules that gives rise to students saying ‘English has so many exceptions’.


Another issue contrastive teaching (What is the difference between the past simple and the past continuous?) is that it ignores the major useful generalisations and uses of the aspect, e.g. the interrupted-ness as a feature of all progressive aspects. Other useful generalisations about the progressive aspect might include: something temporary, something new, describing of something changing or developing.


Many coursebooks tend to look at specific tenses, but fail to look at the aspect as a whole. Dave then goes on to recommend that coursebooks start with the present continuous, avoid contrasting it with other tenses, but instead feed in slowly the different features of the aspect.  Here are some useful generalisations of the tense and aspect system.


Present tenses often used to :

Talk about the present and future;

Talk about the past when we are telling a story;


Past tenses often used to:

Talk about the past;

Talk about hypotheses;

Be polite.


Perfective Aspect often used to:

Look back

i.e. present perfect shows how something continued to the present,

past perfect shows how something continued to a particular point in the past.


Although general guidelines are worth giving to students, Dave Willis cautions against offering precise rules and tells us that successful pedagogic grammars are good at constructing examples (clearly contrived ones to boot) that fit the rule of the language they want to have. Instead he suggests that we get students to look at authentic texts and examine the choices made in real contexts, while considering the contextual features that are motivating that choice the speaker/writer makes.


Here is an example of a text that he uses. Notice how there are no correct answers and the options given can all be correct depending on the point of view of the speaker/writer, and the emphasis they want to give the different subjects and themes of the text.

Stating that we need to expose our learners to the different genres of texts in different registers, and get our learners to see how time is talked about with different tenses, Dave provides a viewpoint of language that seems to be continuously echoed throughout the rest of the conference, a viewpoint that I have expounded on in my talk about politeness and pragmatics as well, and that is:


Stop overgeneralizing and offering fake formulae to learners. Instead get them to discuss and notice the patterns of language use.


Raise their awareness of pragmatic/discourse issues and allow them to understand that it all depends on the context and the intentions of the interlocutor.


For more updates on the rest of Day 1 at the IATEFL Conference, watch this space…


…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 3 – Adrian Underhill’s Plenary

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


Plenary Speech by Adrian Underhill

After a series of opening speeches, including IATEFL President Eric Baber thanking the coordinating committee, and the audience giving a big wave to the online audience, Adrian Underhill came on for the opening plenary, speaking on the topic of ‘Mess and Progress’. He started off by ‘singing’ ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ by Portia Nelson, reminding the audience to learn from the problems they encounter and make the necessary progress.

Photo by Mike Hogan

In 1974, systems thinker Russell Ackoff differentiates ‘difficulty’ from ‘mess’. A difficulty is often clear cut, explainable, labellable, and solvable with current thinking. A mess is extensive, boundaryless, uncertain, ambiguous, resists change, one where there is no correct view or quick fix, and we often hardly know where to start when trying to deal with it. Often, when there is human behaviour there will more than likely be a mess.

However, a systems thinker sees relationships as primary, and things (changes and progress) spring from them. This is in contrast to the traditional view that things are primary and relationships spring from them. Systemic thinking therefore sees connections and relationships rather than isolated entities. Yet, traditionally, our tendency is to default to ‘control’ rather than trying to ‘connect’. ‘Control’ might work with ‘difficulties’, but not with ‘mess’.

Thus, traditional, hierarchical top-down approaches are obliged to change because such traditional approaches tend to see decisions that are based on incomplete data, where cause and effect are disconnected and where there are often unintended consequences. As complexity (in companies and in societies) is increasing, such approaches that demand that leadership serves the people and that our jobs has significance (we all want to work because it has meaning for us) no longer work. Instead, we need intelligence dispersed throughout the system and not only at the top.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Adrian Underhill  then continues to assert the importance of realizing that a leader’s work is essentially very different from the past ideas of heroic leadership, suggesting that we are conditioned to think of the male archetype when thinking about leadership traditionally. After most leadership books are written by men for men. Instead a new field of ‘women’s leadership’ is developing – one which is relationship-based and involved systems thinking.

Hence, leadership should be about the activity, and not the person. With this attitude in mind, leadership could in fact come from anywhere. We are all leaders. Then there are leaders of leaders that help the leaders to get on and do it, but not to try and control and do it themselves.

Quoting Heifetz’s Adaptive Leadership, Underhill talks about the two kinds of problems: technical ones which can be fixed with our existing knowhow, and complex ones which show a gap between values and reality: gaps that can’t be closed with existing knowhow) and how the essence of leadership is to either help people to adapt values, or to adapt reality, or both. When people are aligned to their purpose, when the gap between values and behaviours closes, what people experience is a stream of ease (Lewin). By aligning purpose and values, and creating a transparent system, we can more easily get useful feedback from the people that we impact on.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Underhill then moves on to talk about the learning organization, one that facilitates the learning of all its members ad continues to transform itself (Pedler and Aspinwall). Individual learning can in fact be wasted unless harnessed at organizational level, thus expounding on the fact that a company that does lots of training is not necessarily a learning company. While learning leaders (who continue to learn) lead through their learning, a team of committed managers with individual IQs of 120 could have a collective IQ of 63!

In one of his several true-TEFL ‘work-in-pairs’ moment, Underhill gets the audience to rate these following statements from 0 to 10 regarding their organization.

  1. It’s easy to get people to listen to and experiment with new ideas and suggestions.
  2. When one person learns something new, everyone hears about it.
  3. Making mistakes is part of learning. You can be open about it. It is not career limiting.
  4. Staff members of all ranks give each other quality feedback from above, below and sideways
  5. Everyone is involved in discussing school policies before adoption.
  6. People in one department know what people in another department are thinking, and they help each other.

Underhill then reminds us that systemic thinking requires ‘slow knowing’ (Claxton) where the more patient, less deliberate modes are better suited to making sense of situations that are fleeting, messy and ill-defined, thus allowing for different ways of knowing: cognitive, artisitic, imaginative, emotional and intuitive.

Learning to think systematically means encouraging connectivity, not control. (Give up trying to be interesting. It is only another way of trying to control!)

Learning to think systematically means seeing more points of views, seeing the whole school as an adventure park for your learning.

Thus, our learning mantra should be : See what’s going on, do something different, learn from it.

It is after all professionally exhausting to maintain the pretence that messes are difficulties…

I want to face the problems – unclear, vague and messy that I have discovered to be real around here.

Photo by Mike Hogan

To end the talk, Adrian Underhill treats us to a song on the guitar – Reflective Blues.

Here’s link to the video…but unfortunately the sound gets a bit muffled in the middle verses (not sure what happened there…I’m really sorry but it gets better again at 2.00mins) but it would at least give you a feel for the relaxed and inspiring atmosphere of the opening plenary, and if this has whet your appetite for more, don’t forget that you can watch the actual talk by Adrian Underhill here at IATEFL Online.

For updates on the rest of Day 1 at IATEFL Glasgow, watch this space…

…to be continued…