EFLIS Newsletter

EFLIS News, Volume 9:1 (March 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/08/2011


In This Issue...

  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Message From the Co-Editors
    • EFLIS Survey Report
    • EFLIS Proposal Review Process
    • EFLIS New Ideas and Initiatives
    • Report on the EFLIS Business Meeting
  • Articles
    • EFLIS Academic Session 2009. Global and Local Perspectives: Evolving Communities of Practice in EFL
    • EFLIS InterSection with ESPIS and ICIS at the Denver Convention 2009
    • How to Submit a Proposal for the TESOL Convention
  • Announcements and Information
    • Announcements and Information

Leadership Updates

Letter From the Chair

Toni Hull, toni_hull2002@yahoo.com

Once a month I visit TESOL’s Web site to check out the newest membership statistics. Predictably, as chair of the EFLIS, I immediately scroll down to the section about interest section enrollment. And for many months in a row now, the results have been the same: EFLIS is the largest IS in TESOL. Though we’ve lost members in the past year, as has TESOL overall, we’ve continued to hold on to our status as the largest IS, in terms of both people selecting EFLIS as their primary IS (the IS in which you can vote for officers) and those choosing EFLIS as an additional IS (from which you can choose to receive e-list messages and newsletters).

But what does this statistic really mean? As many of the reports in this edition of the newsletter show, we are a truly diverse community. We are located all around the globe, teaching in every imaginable educational situation, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. Unlike other interest sections that are united by a specific pedagogical or professional issue, our character as an interest section is harder to define. In talking among ourselves, members of the EFLIS Steering Committee repeatedly return to the same question: Why do our members choose EFLIS as their primary IS among all the possible TESOL communities?

Since last year, we’ve been trying to answer that question, through membership surveys, informal discussions, and online forums. Our hope is that once we’ve answered this question, we can more effectively serve the interests and needs of our members. Several new communication initiatives are already in the works, and more will come as we hear back from members.

In the meantime, this current newsletter is an important opportunity to provide evidence of the active involvement of many EFLIS members in the annual TESOL convention, as attendees, as presenters, and, quite importantly, as proposal reviewers.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the hard work of the current EFLIS officers. In March 2009, Ke Xu was elected chair-elect, having just completed his tenure as the 2008-2009 chair. Ke is well known as a contributor to Essential Teacher and as a tireless advocate for EFL issues. We are very fortunate to have Gabriela Kleckova and Suchada Nimmannit as coeditors of this newsletter. As their report on the recent newsletter survey shows, they are dedicated to using the newsletter—and other possible means of communication—to enhance the quality of your EFLIS membership. Finally, I would like to personally thank Jane Hoelker, Sally Harris, and Ulrich Bliesener, all past EFLIS chairs and current steering committee members, whose invaluable counsel has been a great help to this first-time chair.

Just one last thought: I would like to encourage you to contact me or any other EFLIS officer with your thoughts about any of the issues discussed in this newsletter. Just click on the e-mail links provided and let us hear from you!

Thank you!

Message From the Co-Editors

Gabriela Kleckovagabriela_kleckova@yahoo.com, and Suchada Nimmannit,suchada.n@chula.ac.th

Although TESOL is about to host its 44th Annual TESOL Convention and Exhibit in Boston, Massachusetts, this issue of the newsletter takes us back 1 year to Denver, Colorado. Some may wonder how relevant it is to bring to you 1-year-old leadership updates and presentations, but the reality is that the topics and issues addressed in the multiple contributions presented here are still as topical and relevant today as they were a year ago.

The past 12 months have seen efforts to identify the needs and interests of the EFLIS, which continues to be the largest IS in TESOL with members all over the world. The individual contributions in the Leadership Updates inform about these efforts ranging from online tools to gather members’ input to specific initiatives explored by the IS leaders. We hope that as you read through these, new thoughts and ideas about the interest section and its activities will be generated and you will provide the leadership of the IS with new input or even decide to seek a way to serve the IS.

The first two articles in the second part of the newsletter are dedicated to professional issues as they were presented at the EFLIS Academic Session and EFLIS InterSection with ESPIS and ICIS in Denver. Both sessions included contributions by professionals from different corners of the world and thus provide a nice mosaic of experiences and views on EFL practices in areas of communities of practice and intercultural communication. The last article takes us to the proposal writing process and informs on the basic steps that lead to a successful TESOL convention proposal.

This is the last newsletter that we have coedited together. Each of us is taking on other professional responsibilities within and outside TESOL and we are therefore stepping down as newsletter editors. We have enjoyed working on the newsletter and learning about the world of the EFLIS members as we have been gathering content for individual issues of the newsletter. The job has not always been easy and we have had to jump through some hoops along the way, but like any service to the profession, it has been a very rewarding experience.

Enjoy this issue of the newsletter!

EFLIS Survey Report

Gabriela Kleckova, gabriela_kleckova@yahoo.com, and Suchada Nimmannit, suchada.n@chula.ac.th

The EFLIS Newsletter provides a platform for EFLIS members to share their EFL professional interests and concerns. It is a tool that connects EFL members worldwide and serves as a forum to address EFL practices, thoughts, activities, and materials. In order to improve service to all members, in the spring of 2009, the EFLIS editorial team conducted a survey among EFLIS members about the content and format of the newsletter.

Thirty-nine members completed the survey and provided input on the design of the newsletter. We would like to thank these 39 respondents for taking the time to complete the survey. Here we present a summary of the results and raise some additional questions about the newsletter.


Of the 39 respondents, 58 percent were from higher education, whereas 42 percent were from adult education. The majority (55%) held a master’s degree while 18 percent had a PhD. The length of their subscription to the EFLIS varied from 1 to 3 years (42%), 4 to 10 years (27%), and less than 1 year (18%). With regard to geographical representation, the majority of the respondents worked in Asia and Pacific (43%) and the United States (27%). Other respondents were from South America (11%), Africa and the Middle East (10%), and Europe (8%).

The following areas were identified as the major professional issues of the surveyed population:

  • professional development
  • practical applications in the classroom
  • employment issues
  • integrating IT into ELT
  • getting published
  • action research
  • academic presentations

Concerning the respondents’ reading of the newsletter, 49 percent of them read some columns in the EFLIS Newsletter, whereas 21 percent read all columns. Thirty percent of the respondents did not read the newsletter regularly. Those who were not regular readers specified their reasons for not reading the newsletter: e.g., lack of time, or lack of substantial information about the newsletter.


The survey asked for feedback on the newsletter’s frequency, organization, and content. The majority of the respondents (67%) would like the newsletter to come out four times a year while 22 percent were happy with three issues a year. Most respondents were very happy (41%) and somewhat happy (48%) with the organization of the columns in the newsletter (e.g., articles on EFL practice from different geographical locations). Only 9 percent did not like the way the columns were organized.

Regarding the content of the newsletter, 36 percent of the respondents were satisfied and 25 percent were somewhat satisfied. Thirty-three percent were satisfied and 25 percent were somewhat satisfied with the quality of the content. The majority of respondents (56%) found the newsletter useful while 18 percent found it very useful. The respondents ranked the originally proposed columns of the newsletter as follows in terms of interest:

  1. Classroom Exchange
  2. Articles
  3. The Other Hand
  4. Day in the Life
  5. Conference Report
  6. Book or Resource Review


The respondents would like to read more academic articles, research reports, interviews with the authorities in the fields, news, and updated profiles of ELT in different geographical areas. Regarding topics, the respondents were interested in the following issues (in no specific order): political issues affecting government’s decisions regarding EFL and news about EFL, practical tips for those working in developing countries with limited resources, qualitative research in the language classroom, intercultural competence, collaborations between schools and business sector, teaching English to the handicapped, and ELT resources.

Finally, as for willingness to contribute to the newsletter, 20 percent of the respondents said that they were very interested in sending their articles, 50 percent were somewhat interested, and 20 percent would be keen on contributing to the newsletter if approached.


Despite the low percentage of feedback from the respondents, the 39 respondents (1.48%) out of 2,643 EFLIS primary and secondary members provided us with useful views of the newsletter. They find the newsletter satisfactory and useful to their work. The fact that they would like the newsletter to come out more often—four times a year—clearly states the needs of our members to connect with ELT colleagues. Whether the newsletter will serve this purpose in the future or whether other and more dynamic tools will be implemented for global discussions will be one of the questions to be answered in the months to come. However, recommendations concerning topics and types of articles that interest members are useful and should be considered for future actions. Of particular interest are substantial responses indicating members’ willingness to contribute to the newsletter, opening more avenues for the members to contribute to and participate in the EFLIS community of practice.

Because membership is the heart of TESOL, members’ satisfaction should constantly be monitored. In light of the low percentage of membership feedback, the editorial team should identify more creative ways to entice more responses and participation from the membership at large so that the EFLIS could better respond to the needs and the expectations of its members.

Watch the EFLIS e-list for updates about the newsletter or information on other means of professional discussions among EFLIS members.

EFLIS Proposal Review Process

Toni Hull, toni_hull2002@yahoo.com

Without any doubt, the most significant responsibility of the interest sections is the proposal review process that ultimately results in the schedule of presentations for the annual TESOL convention.

In the spring of 2009, over 90 people from all around the globe responded to the EFLIS call for reviewers, and during two intense weeks in June, they worked as a team to process 225 proposals (each requiring three scores). Thanks to the large number of people volunteering, each reviewer was assigned just seven to nine proposals to review. As inevitably happens, several reviewers had to drop out of the process at the last minute, and the response to a call for emergency back-up reviewers was immediate and generous!

The result: EFLIS completed all of its reviews by the deadline. But in addition to the timeliness of their work, the reviewers worked with conscientious enthusiasm, working hard to make fair judgments in the scoring process. These scores were then reviewed and final selections made by the chair with the objective of creating a balanced schedule of presentations for the Boston convention.

This year EFLIS was allotted 57 slots (in addition to the nonrefereed Academic and InterSection Sessions). This means we were able to accept just 25 percent of the proposals submitted.

If you are one of those whose presentation was not accepted last year, please don’t be discouraged. Please submit a proposal again this year. Hopefully the feedback from the reviewers who scored your proposal will help you with your next submission. You may also find some helpful hints in the comments that follow.

To those whose proposals were accepted, congratulations! We’re looking forward to seeing your presentations in Boston.

And to those stalwart reviewers, again deepest thanks from your coordinator!

Following the review process, a survey was distributed to the reviewers, inviting their feedback on the review process and the proposals. Here are some of the results.

Comments about being a reviewer:

  • I want to thank TESOL for this opportunity; it has been a great learning experience. I have definitely benefited from having the honor of reading so many interesting proposals.
  • I really like doing it! It’s a way to see what is going to happen in the convention in the EFL field.

Question: What is your overall opinion of the quality of the proposals you read?

  • Excellent 7.3%
  • Good 58.2%
  • Satisfactory 32.7%
  • Poor 1.8%

Question: What advice would you give to future proposal writers? (selected responses)

  • proposal writers need to carefully consider rubrics
  • proposals need to be more concrete
  • objective needs to be clearer
  • proposals need better sense of potential audience
  • presentations should address issues universally applicable in the field

EFLIS New Ideas and Initiatives

Toni Hull, Chair, toni_hull2002@yahoo.com, and Ke Xu, Chair-Elect, kexu@aol.com

Simple fact: The EFLIS community is extraordinarily diverse. Among our constituents are secondary school teachers in Russia, teacher-trainers in Israel, MA students in the United States, university professors in Vietnam, private language school teachers in Argentina, and IEP instructors in Qatar, to name just a few of our teaching contexts and locations.

As our IS continues to grow, it is essential that we explore ways to increase the benefits of membership and, perhaps most important, opportunities for interaction.

Since last year a few important initiatives have been explored to make EFLIS a more valuable benefit of TESOL membership.

  1. First, we want to hear more from our members about who they are and what their EFL concerns and interests are. As you read this, results of a member survey are being analyzed. Two specific questions invited detailed comments: Why did you choose EFLIS as your primary IS? What topics would you like to see the IS explore? Answers to these questions will, we hope, direct us in developing the second initiative being discussed.
  2. In the coming months, we are planning to launch an online roundtable forum, featuring a panel of experts—EFLIS members from around the world—invited to share their views and their experience on critical EFL topics. A resulting Q&A and discussion will involve all readers.
  3. The third initiative is a proposal writing mentoring program. This idea was generated by a recent reviewer who recognized the potential in several proposals that unfortunately did not earn a high score for a variety of reasons, such as poor organization, awkward language, weak theory, or unclear practical application. In this project, experienced proposal writers would mentor novice writers in the month or two prior to the June submission deadline.

As always, we welcome feedback from members at any time, on any subject. Let us know what your concerns are, how the EFLIS can help you, and how you think we can most effectively promote the research and practice of EFL (or EIL or ELF or Global English).

Report on the EFLIS Business Meeting

Toni Hull, toni_hull2002@yahoo.com

This is not a formal report, because our business meeting at the TESOL convention held in March 2009 in Denver, Colorado, was not formal. Instead, it was an informal gathering of eight members who enjoyed a casual but lively discussion about ideas for future projects for the IS.

For a number of reasons, attendance at our IS annual meeting is always low. The number one reason for this is undoubtedly that relatively few of our members, so many of whom reside outside the United States, are able to attend the convention. Among those who do come to the convention, few attend our business meeting, in spite of numerous invitations. There are two very good reasons for this: (a) for several years, the EFLIS has held online elections prior to the convention, which means there is no specific business requiring attendance at the business meeting, and (b) there are just too many other things happening at the same time.

However, the eight members who did come enjoyed meeting each other and sharing ideas about their own involvement in EFLIS. One member admitted that she was thinking of changing her primary IS choice, because after years of working in other countries, she was now returning to the United States. But, she admitted, a part of her would always feel a strong association with the EFL learning and teaching context. Another new member was hoping to learn how she could get a job in the Middle East. One attendee admitted she wasn’t even sure if she was on the EFLIS e-list, which led to a fruitful discussion about how effective (or ineffective) this means of communication is and what alternatives we might explore.

All of this provided excellent food for thought for the IS officers. Though we’ll continue to consider ways to encourage more members to drop by the business meeting, we’re also committed to the idea of developing opportunities for involvement beyond the limited confines of the convention.


EFLIS Academic Session 2009. Global and Local Perspectives: Evolving Communities of Practice in EFL

Suresh Canagarajah, asc16@psu.edu; Vance Stevens, vancestev@gmail.com; Takako Nishino, zippyn@gmail.com; and Jane Hoelker, jhoelker@gmail.com

Whether one is learning or teaching English in the EFL context, the model of communities of practice moves individuals and groups forward in their development. Examples of shared practices implemented in elementary and tertiary institutions as well as in programs of teacher professional development, including one conducted on worldwide communication networks, were discussed during the EFLIS Academic Session in Denver in 2009. Following are summaries of four of the six presentations given.

Suresh Canagarajah, asc16@psu.edu

I introduced the session by discussing the many serious debates under way in applied linguistics on the future of English as a contact language, as scholars recognize the legitimacy of diverse varieties of English. David Crystal has said, “It may not be many years before an international standard will be the starting-point, with British, American, and other varieties all seen as optional localizations” (Crystal, 2004, p. 40). Many scholars would argue that this search for a new international norm is already under way. With native speakers declining in number relative to multilingual speakers of English, there is a search for new norms of communication for international purposes and contexts. It can no longer be claimed that the traditional norms, belonging to the British or American standard variety of English, will be used universally by global speakers of English for contact purposes. As the world grows accustomed to English as a lingua franca (ELF), many professionals are forced to ask how English will facilitate communication among global speakers.

Crystal himself has proposed that a neutral variety of English may evolve as the link language for the global community of English language speakers. Crystal (1997) has labeled it “World Standard Spoken English.” Other scholars have proposed a similar solution for the challenge of international communication among diverse varieties of World Englishes. McArthur (1987) labeled this “World Standard Auxiliary English” and Modiano (1999) called this “English as an International Language.” Though the development of a neutral variety would be a good way to resolve the cultural and political dilemmas of imposing a single norm on everyone else, other scholars consider this proposal too idealistic. They question if this variety will really be neutral (see Cameron, 2002). Crystal (1997) himself has acknowledged that this variety will be heavily influenced in form and values by the dominant varieties of British and American English. Tibor Frank (2004) raised the paradox of a culture-neutral English actually serving the interests of dominant institutions and agencies. Calling this neutral variety “airport English,” he observed that “its complexities have been eliminated and its substance undermined . . . with the aim of delivering (often commercial) messages in the shortest, most economical way” (p. 81). He went on to express his concerns as follows: “This . . . Supranational English pervades national languages and inundates them with its expressions and distinct style of communication” (p. 82). Yet, he considered this kind of contact variety “an American genre” (p. 82), presumably influenced by values of pragmatism, economy, and commercialism.

An empirical activity to define the evolving new norms of contact English is the attempt to describe the lingua franca core (LFC). Whereas the model proposed by Crystal and others is only a projection into the future, scholars of LFC are conducting corpus analysis to determine the new norms for international communication. LFC constitutes the phonological and grammatical options that multilingual speakers adopt to facilitate intelligibility, though they may differ from the norms of inner-circle communities and local varieties (see the description of features in Seidlhofer, 2004, pp. 215–223). For example, multilingual people use phonological and grammatical norms that reduce ambiguity, enhance redundancy, and focus on intelligibility as they seek to accommodate their social and cultural objectives. Scholars in this tradition treat LFC as an independent variety of equal status with national varieties, but common to all nations, as evident in statements like the following: “The option of distinguishing ELF from ENL [i.e., English as National Language] is likely to be beneficial in that it leaves varieties of native English intact for all the functions that only a first language can perform and as a target for learning in circumstances where ENL is deemed appropriate, as well as providing the option of code-switching between ENL and ELF” (Seidlhofer, 2004, p. 229).

However, many scholars question if the features emerging about LFC are enough to make it a separate system of English. Meierkord (2004) adopted the explicit position that ELF has nothing of the stability, homogeneity, or system projected by Crystal’s “World Standard Spoken English” or Seidlhofer’s LFC. She characterized ELF as a “a variety in constant flux, involving different constellations of speakers of diverse individual Englishes in every single interaction” (p. 115). In her syntactic description, she defined ELF as a heterogeneous form of English characterized by

  • overwhelming correspondence to the rules of L1 Englishes,
  • transfer phenomena, developmental patterns, and nativized forms, [and]
  • simplification, regularization. and levelling processes. (p. 128)

On the basis of data from international students in Germany, she went on to demonstrate how speakers negotiate intelligibility through this mixed variety. Sampson and Zhao (2003) treat ELF in somewhat similar ways as a pidgin variety on the basis of data from multilingual sailors. They find the existence of Singaporean, Indian, and Filipino Englishes in the ELF of the sailors. They consider the way in which sailors borrow from the peculiar usages of each other; both transfer items from other L1s as well as versions of local Englishes.

It appears from research by scholars such as Meierkord, House (2003), and Gramkow Anderson (1993) that multilingual speakers bring their own varieties of English for contact situations. What helps them communicate is not a common form (or variety) of English, but pragmatic strategies that help them negotiate intelligibility. Pragmatic strategies enable speakers to maintain their own varieties and still communicate without hindrance. This finding goes against the dominant linguistic assumption that it is homogeneity that facilitates communication across cultures. Seidlhofer (2004) summarized the pragmatic strategies that have been identified in ELF research:

  • Misunderstandings are not frequent in ELF interactions; when they do occur, they tend to be resolved either by topic change or, less often, by overt negotiation using communication strategies such as rephrasing and repetition.
  • Interference from L1 interactional norms is very rare—a kind of suspension of expectations regarding norms seems to be in operation.
  • As long as a certain threshold of understanding is obtained, interlocutors seem to adopt what Firth (1996) has termed the “let it pass” principle, which gives the impression of ELF talk being overtly consensus-oriented, cooperative, and mutually supportive, and thus fairly robust.

Even attitudinal resources, such as patience, tolerance, and humility to negotiate differences, can help speakers decode the unique features of the interlocutor and sustain a conversation. Such are the resources that Higgins (2003) found multilingual students employing to decode vocabulary from World Englishes. Anglo-American students have difficulties in such tasks because they don’t bring a tolerant attitude. Indian linguist Khubchandani (1997) explained further that as multilingual speakers focus on their shared objectives for the communication, they support each other to overcome linguistic differences. As they engage with each other, they may borrow words from each other (in a form of code mixing) or construct new words and forms as an intersubjective coconstructed norm that facilitates communication.

It appears that a model that might help explain the possibility of lingua franca English as it emerges from the latter school of research is the communities of practice (CoPs) perspective (Wenger, 1998). The model posits that members in a community don’t have to share anything common. What they bring are negotiation strategies and practices that help them to collaborate on common objectives. The three key constructs of this model—that is, mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire—can be employed to explain how multilinguals manage to communicate without resorting to a single linguistic variety as the norm. In adopting this perspective, I am treating each communicative interaction between interlocutors as simulating the conditions of CoPs. This is a microsocial orientation to CoPs. Negotiation is instantaneous, local, and short term. It appears as if lingua franca communication works in the following fashion: When subjects from different linguistic backgrounds come together for a particular objective, they realize that a successful outcome requires mutual engagement. It is not the sharedness of language forms that brings them together but the commonly sought objective. Unable to resort to a shared language (or even common values or beliefs), they realize that they have to help each other achieve their objectives. They adopt reciprocal strategies that will help them achieve communication and intelligibility. As they engage in the interaction, they coconstruct words, forms, and conventions that help them communicate with each other. This shared repertoire may be relevant only for the parties involved in a specific interaction. It won’t be shared by others who are not party to the interaction.

While CoPs help provide an alternate model for theorizing the possibility of lingua franca English, the scholarship on LFE contributes something to CoPs as well. Though CoPs is a practice-based model of socialization, it hasn’t developed a microsocial view on negotiation practices employed by members in communities. How do people negotiate their cultural, social status, and power differences in a CoP? What linguistic transactions take place in the development of an insider identity? The school of LFE that focuses on pragmatics and negotiation strategies may help develop a microsocial view of the processes and practices that explain community life.


Cameron, D. (2002). Globalization and the teaching of “communication skills.” In D. Cameron & D. Block, Globalization and language teaching (pp. 67-82). London: Routledge.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge, UK: CUP.

Crystal, D. (2004). The language revolution. Cambridge, England: Polity.

Firth, A. (1996). The discursive accomplishment of normality. On “lingua franca” English and conversation analysis. Journal of Pragmatics, 26, 237-259.

Frank, T. (2004). Supranational English, American values, and East-Central Europe. PMLA, 119(1), 80-91.

Gramkow Anderson, K. (1993). Lingua franca discourse: An investigation of the use of English in an interna-tional business context. Unpublished master’s thesis, Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark.

Higgins, C. (2003). “Ownership” of English in the outer circle: An alternative to the NS/NNS dichotomy. TESOL Quarterly, 34(3), 615-644.

House, J. (2003). English as a lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism? Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7(4), 556-578.

Khubchandani, L. M. (1997). Revisualizing boundaries: A plurilingual ethos. New Delhi, India: Sage.

McArthur, T. (1987). The English languages? English Today, 11, 9-13.

Meierkord, C. (2004). Syntactic variation in interactions across international Englishes. English World-Wide, 25(1), 109-132.

Modiano, M. (1999). Standard English(es) and educational practices for the world’s lingua franca. English Today, 15(4), 3-13.

Sampson, H., & Zhao, M. (2003). Multilingual crews: communication and the operation of ships. World Englishes, 22(1), 31-45.

Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a lingua franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 209-239.

Wenger, Etienne. (1998). Communities of practice. Cambridge, UK: CUP.

Vance Stevens, vancestev@gmail.com

I continued the discussion by explaining how the Webheads, an example of a distributed community of practice (CoP), began, who is involved in the CoP, and what it has been doing. The Webheads has been meeting synchronously at least once a week since 1998. Originally an effort at teaching online among collaborating teachers Maggie Doty, Michael Coghlan, and Vance Stevens, Webheads in Action (WiA), http://webheads.info, was formed as part of a 2002 session of EVO (TESOL sponsored 6-week courses given free each year via Electronic Village Online, http://evosessions.pbwiki.com). Membership in WiA has increased to hundreds of educators who engage in helping each other pursue lifelong, just-in-time, informal learning through experimentation in use of social-media and computer-mediated communications tools. Among its accomplishments, the Webheads community has already mounted three free international online conferences, the Webheads in Action Online Convergences (see http://www.wiaoc.org, http://webheadsinaction.org, andhttp://webheadsinaction.ning.com).

The question addressed here is, Is Webheads a group, a community, or a network? In Stevens (2009a, slides 6-10) I distinguish between groups, communities, communities of practice, and networks (Figure 1).

Figure 1


A group is a gathering of people. It could be a mob or a friendly gathering at a pub. The impetus for its formation is chance or convenience; examples include people walking near one another in a park, people who come together to observe a sporting event, or students who are grouped in furtherance of class or extracurricular logistics.

Downes (2006a) characterized differences between groups and networks. The slide shown in Figure 2 is drawn from Downes (2006b), where this dichotomy is presented in more detail, and the information is encapsulated in the table in Figure 3.

Figure 2

Groups require

Networks require





privacy or segregation


focus of voice


Figure 3


Communities have more cohesion and permanence than do groups. A community could form around a place where people live, or other groupings might consider themselves communities as they develop social bonds and identity to distinguish themselves from groups.

When WiA was started in 2002 it coalesced around a Yahoo Group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evonline2002_webheads). As people started to join the group they identified themselves as a group until they started interacting in a way that made them think of themselves more as a community than merely as a group of teachers. Some of these characteristics of a community are as follows:

  • Photographs and voice/webcam communications enable group members to see the human behind the text message and enhance bonds leading to a sense of community.
  • Members not only help one another’s practice by answering each other’s questions, but also show evidence of caring, such as interest in personal vignettes, individual accomplishments, and setbacks.
  • Developing and defining a group culture through a set of mutual understandings negotiated via numerous modalities of communications.

These negotiations have taken place over time in a variety of online spaces that drift in and out of favor with participants in the community as some spaces disappear or are simply supplanted by others, with many online spaces being frequented by community members at any given time, as groupings of individuals deem appropriate to the current purpose. Some spaces are used year after year and others are used experimentally. For example, thanks to a grant from http://learningtimes.org, Webheads often use Elluminate. We have maintained a YahooGroup for the past 7 years, and we have usedhttp://tappedin.org for weekly meetings for much of the past decade; other spaces, such as WiZiQ, various wikis and blogs, and Second Life, are used less regularly.


There is a huge body of knowledge about CoPs in the literature and online. Perhaps the most influential writer on CoPs is Etienne Wenger. Not many of Wenger’s writings are available online, but those that are include Wenger (1998, 2004a, & 2004b).

CoPs are groupings of people who wish to share knowledge in their mutual field. But according to Wenger, in order to qualify as a CoP, these groupings must have certain characteristics; for example, they

• promote knowledge of a domain;

• revolve around a practice; and

• form spontaneously and voluntarily.

The above features pertain to any CoP, but Wenger further characterizes distributed CoPs, whose members cannot normally convene in the same physical space, noting that distributed CoPs need, among other things, a particular space to interact in (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).

Shortly after its formation as an EVO session in 2002, participants in Webheads in Action were exploring their interactions and sense of cohesion in the framework of CoPs, leading to a second 6-week EVO session (“Communities of Practice Online: Reflection Through Experience and Experiment With the Webheads Community of Language Learners and Practitioners,” http://vancestevens.com/papers/tesol/baltimore2003/copractice.html#workshop) and subsequent presentation at the 2003 TESOL Convention in Baltimore (“Case Study of a Community of Practice,” March 26, 2003,http://vancestevens.com/papers/tesol/baltimore2003/copractice.html#colloquium).

More rigorous examinations were conducted by several PhD candidates who sometimes joined Webheads in order to study our dynamics. Chris Johnson, who studied WiA as an example of a distributed CoP, had Etienne Wenger as an advisor for his dissertation. Johnson (2005) found that Webheads fit (all) nine characteristics unique to distributed CoPs except with regard to one independent variable associated with “emergence with respect to boundary practices” (p. 153)—that is, Webheads tended to neglect boundary members(lurkers)and expected them to bring knowledge into the community on their own.

Later, Etienne Wenger addressed our 2007 WiAOC (Webheads in Action Online Convergence. http://www.wiaoc.org) in a conversation moderated by Susanne Nyrop (Wenger & Nyrop, 2007). When Cristina Costa joined us, Etienne asked her when she felt that she was a member of the WiA CoP. Cristina replied that she realized this when her practice began to change. Etienne referred to this later when, during the question period, I asked him whether his concept of CoPs had evolved during his encounter with the Webheads online. He said indeed it had. He said that the fact that Webheads met in so many spaces while clearly being a CoP was a revelation to him, and that he was reconsidering his notion of constraints on space occupied by a distributed CoP.


Meanwhile I’ve moved in my own thinking beyond the CoP model, following on the work of Stephen Downes and George Siemens (e.g., Downes, 2005; Siemens, 2006). Downes has written and presented much on the concept of diffusion of knowledge within distributed learning networks (e.g., Downes, 2001-2008), and Siemens has long espoused the notion of connectivism, famously summarized as “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” (Siemens, 2004, n.p.). Here, Siemens meant that it is more important to nurture a system of connections between knowledgeable people (the pipe) than to be concerned with what these knowledgeable people know (the content within the pipe) because this content can be directed as needed to anyone with appropriate connections within the pipe.

Distributed learning networks, or personal learning networks (PLNs), provide direct (and indirect) contact with many people in one’s network, each possessing a reservoir of knowledge that contributes to the entire pool of knowledge residing in the network. This can be accessed through electronic discussion lists or sometimes almost instantaneously through Twitter or RSS feeds, or Skype, or instant messaging. Therefore the knowledge possessed by any individual, or node, in the network, is the sum total of all aggregated knowledge within that network. It is to this that the incredible power inherent in distributed learning networks that often comprise, to some extent, communities of practice is ascribed to.

Distributing knowledge is what communities and networks are all about. Downes has a simple illustration of what it means to “know”: Where’s Waldo? Once you know where Waldo is, you can’t not know. But these days it seems there is too much information available, and we need increasingly to get our minds around more of it in order to keep up with and “know” how to perform competently in our work. Wenger et al. (2002, p. 6) promoted the CoP model as an anecdote to the fact, as he put it, that “increasing complexity of knowledge requires greater . . . collaboration; whereas . . . the half life of knowledge is getting shorter.” Dave Cormier (2008) suggested a rhizomatic model of learning to deal with increasingly rapid obsolescence of knowledge. In this model, knowledge is seen as springing up wherever the tendrils, given its rhizomatic nature, are able to reach.

What these notions, or theories, suggest is that connection with others in a network is of prime importance in having access to a repository of knowledge. On a personal level we experience this when we turn to Google or Wikipedia to answer in minutes if not seconds a question that in the past might have sent us to a library, but more often than not would have remained unanswered because of the logistics involved.

As seen in Figure 1, CoPs can be conceived as bubbles overlapping in a Venn diagram. The total of all the bubbles would be the network as conceived in connectivist terms. The CoPs are themselves important to sharing of information within a community, but the fact that nodes within the CoP are connected with nodes outside the CoP in essence brings infinitely more knowledge into the community. I think it is something along these lines that Wenger is trying to accommodate in re-envisaging the notion of space in which distributed CoPs work.


This reality has tremendous implications for professional development. Just before the colloquium where this paper was presented, Jack Richards delivered a plenary address in which he touched on what teachers need to know in order to practice effectively. He said research indicates that teachers tend to revert to traditional methods rather than activate what they are exposed to in training curricula. Derick Wenmoth (2008) mentioned similar findings in his keynote at the K-12 Online Conference that year.

This means that the key to success in keeping current in one’s field is in expanding productive contacts within a network. One problem is that teacher-trainers without sufficient experience with technology and who are rooted in old-school methodologies are simply not modeling modern learning behaviors for the trainees.

The increasingly inadequate model of reliance on face-to-face exchange of knowledge is apparent in the way that many annual conferences are organized and structured. Many such gatherings do little to encourage real-time connectivity for either presenters or participants. George Siemens remarked recently that face-to-face conferences were falling “unacceptably” short on utilizing networking potentials for participants (Stevens, 2009b, at 54:48 into the recording).

This was acceptable in the past because participants who relied on having the opportunity to touch base with each other once a year traditionally might have only been able to exchange letters or e-mails during the intervening months between conferences. But the new dynamic suggests that connectivity where contacts meet only face to face falls far short of interacting in online environments as well. Fortunately there are many venues for doing just that, and for many practitioners online interaction is taking on greater importance in professional development than interaction in face-to-face environments. At the very least, one could say that interaction in online spaces facilitates greater productivity when the interactants eventually do meet face to face.

The bottom line is that it does not hurt and most likely maximizes productivity to interact with colleagues as frequently as possible in online spaces, and this is where distributed CoPs interacting with each other through greater distributed networks is key to practitioners keeping current and confident in their level of competency at work.

Some means for keeping current are participation in

  • Social networks: Ning, TappedIn, EVO, WiAOC
  • Social bookmarking: Delicious, Diigo
  • Groups: YahooGroups and GoogleGroups
  • Microblogging: Twitter, Plurk
  • Instant messaging: Yahoo Messenger, Skype
  • Blogging and podcasting: keeping current via RSS
  • Wikis: PBWiki, Wikispaces
  • Aggregation: Technorati, Pageflakes, Netvibes, Protopages, iGoogle, Addict-o-matic


In conclusion, one might ask which construct of knowledge distribution is more productive: communities or networks? The answer hinges perhaps on scale. Networks are not as cozy as communities, but they can handle a seemingly infinite number of participants. The evolution of Webheads is instructive. Seen as a community, members interact within the domain of practice. Networks imply more widespread, perhaps opportunistic, contacts, with looser characterization of domains and practices. So which is more productive? In light of the spontaneous and voluntary nature of such constructs, the answer is “whatever works” so the question is therefore probably moot.


Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate: Journal of Online Education. Retrieved October 9, 2009, fromhttp://innovateonline.info/?view=article&id=550

Downes, S. (2001-2008). E-learning 2.0. eLearn Magazine. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1

Downes, S. (2005, Dec. 22). An Introduction to Connective Knowledge. Stephen’s Web. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=33034

Downes, S. (2006a). Groups vs networks: The class struggle continues. Presentation at EFest, Wellington NZ, September 27, 2006. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/groups-vs-networks-the-class-struggle-continues

Downes, S. (2006b, Sept. 21). Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts. Stephen’s Web.. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=35839

Johnson, C. (2005). Establishing an online community of practice for instructors of English as a foreign language. Unpublished dissertation submitted to the Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences, Nova Southeastern University.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved October 9, 2009, fromhttp://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Siemens, G. (2006). Knowing knowledge. Ebook available via Creative Commons license. Retrieved October 9, 2009, fromhttp://www.elearnspace.org/KnowingKnowledge_LowRes.pdf

Stevens, V. (2009a). The Webheads and distributed communities of practice. Presentation given March 27, 2009, at TESOL, Denver. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.slideshare.net/vances/the-webheads-and-distributed-communities-of-practice

Stevens, V. (2009b). After a decade of inroads, SUCCESS in modeling blended learning in theory AND practice at F2F and online conferences. Presentation given February 20, 2009, at AACE’s Spaces of Interaction online conference, http://www.aace.org/globalu/archives/spaces/. Recording retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://aace.na4.acrobat.com/p92907860/

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning as a social system. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml

Wenger, E. (2004a). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm

Wenger, E. (2004b). Cultivating communities of practice: A quick start-up guide. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/start-up_guide_PDF.pdf

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E., & Nyrop, S. (2007). Communities of practice in an interconnected World: New geographies of knowledge and identity. Keynote presentation at Webheads in Action Online Convergence (WiAOC 2007). Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://webheadsinaction.org/wiaoc2007/EtienneWenger; audio recording at http://streamarchives.net/node/56 and http://streamarchives.net/node/55.

Wenmoth, D. (2008). Holding a mirror to our professional practice. Keynote address given at the K12 Online Conference 2008. Retrieved October 9, 2009, from http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=181

This article has been updated at the invitation of Jane Hoelker on behalf of the editors of the EFLIS Newsletter. The article is taken from a blog posting made shortly after delivery of my presentation (see http://advanceducation.blogspot.com/2009/04/global-and-local-visions-webheads-and.html).

Takako Nishino, zippyn@gmail.com

I explained the practice of multimembership in local communities of practice (CoPs) and mentioned that Wenger (1998) defined a community of practice as a group of people who share sociocultural practices and work together toward common goals, and considered learning as active participation in the practice itself. Wenger also mentioned that all people experience multimembership in many CoPs. Wenger assumed two types of connections among CoPs: a broker (a member of multiple CoPs who introduces elements of one CoP into another) and a boundary object (an artifact around which the members of the different CoPs can organize their activities).

These perspectives are useful in understanding teachers’ learning as practice, so I used Wenger’s (1998) CoP as a conceptual framework for my case study of Japanese high school teachers’ learning in multiple communities.


Since the 1980s, as a result of globalization, Japan has had a growing need for communicative English skills. Since 1989, the Ministry of Education has revised national curriculum guidelines twice to promote high school teachers’ use of communicative language teaching (hereafter CLT). From 2003 to 2007, local boards of education provided intensive English teacher-training programs. Approximately 60,000 public secondary school teachers attended these programs, and university professors and language school instructors were invited to serve as lecturers.

These innovations initiated by the Ministry appear to have conflicted with the Japanese teachers’ traditional practices—namely, the grammar-translation method. According to a survey conducted in 2007 (Kenkyuukai, 2008), secondary school teachers found it difficult to connect the lectures of university professors or language school teachers to their classroom practices, and even though they attended the training programs, it seems unlikely that the training was going to influence the teachers’ practices. Another survey conducted in 2006 reported that Japanese high school teachers rarely used CLT (Nishino, 2008).

Also to be noted is that Japanese high school teachers themselves have attempted to develop communicative approaches that would fit their teaching contexts (Nishino & Watanabe, 2008). However, this effort has remained unnoticed. Thus there is a need to look into how teachers generated context-appropriate methodologies through learning in their CoPs. In response, my study investigated how Japanese high school teachers generate context-appropriate methodologies and examined how multimembership in CoPs influences their learning.

The participants were four experienced Japanese high school teachers of English. I focus here on Nao, who taught at an agricultural high school. I observed his class three times in 2006-2007, and after each observation, I interviewed him in Japanese.


Interview data indicated that Nao belonged to multiple local CoPs including English teacher colleagues and teachers’ associations. However, there is also the larger community of global TESOL, and many Japanese university professors, language school teachers, and teachers with TESOL master’s degrees belong to that community. Their activities consist of holding meetings and conferences and publishing in journals in Japan. However, Japanese high school teachers rarely attend these conferences or read the journals. So the overlapping area of local and global communities is very small, and Nao did not appear to have an identity as a global TESOL member.

However, Nao learned the practices of global TESOL from brokers and boundary objects that connected him to the global community and helped him develop his own method of “oral introduction.” Oral introduction is a technique for introducing a passage in an English textbook in an interactive way. His class is teacher-fronted and textbook-based, but Nao and his students communicated in English during this activity. How did he develop this method?

Nao had learned English in Japanese secondary schools and experienced a teaching practicum through the grammar-translation method, so he used the same method at the beginning of his career. However, Nao changed his way of teaching through the influence of his wife, Michi. Nao met her at a teachers’ meeting in 1986 and married her in 1992. Michi was a high school English teacher with a master’s degree in TESOL. As Nao said, “Michi had an impact on my view of English education, my English skills, and my professional knowledge. I talked to her. We talked. I saw what she was doing. We did activities together in the teachers’ association.” Michi was a member of the global TESOL community as well as the teachers’ association Nao belonged to, and her multimembership likely enabled her to be a broker between the CoPs.

Michi also helped Nao gain knowledge of TESOL and SLA. Nao read books in Michi’s library and among them found Dӧrnyei’s (2001) Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom especially interesting. He said, “Teachers all know about these strategies . . . but the book covers all the strategies teachers are using . . . very useful for me.” Nao reconfirmed that he was using various strategies discussed in the professional literature. As such, the book may well have led him from tacit to well-grounded professional knowledge. The book played the role of a boundary object through which Nao encountered knowledge constructed in the global TESOL community.

In 1987, the Japan Exchange Teaching Program started. Since then, the Ministry has invited approximately 6,000 foreign college graduates to Japan every year to team-teach English as assistant language teachers (ALTs). At that time, ALTs were generally marginalized from the Japanese English teacher community; they were treated as guest instructors or human tape recorders.

Nao was different. He thought that he should improve his speaking skills in order to team-teach effectively. He became friends with the ALT, sometimes visited him and stayed overnight with him. In responding to my question about whether ALTs influenced his teaching, Nao said, “Regarding the use of English in class, ALTs affected me. There is a lot that I’ve learned from them. For example, what words to use and what expressions to use.” He also said, “I learned how to interact with students. Seeing ALTs encouraging my students and trying to draw their attention, I thought I had to encourage and entertain my students more.” Nao regarded the ALT as his colleague even though his participation was peripheral; this might have allowed the ALT to influence Nao’s teaching.

Nao joined the High School English Teachers’ Association in 1986. The association held workshops and class observations and invited advisers to the meetings. Nao was impressed by the oral introduction approach originally proposed by Mr. Wat, a university professor with experience teaching in high schools. Mr. Wat developed the approach based on Krashen’s input hypotheses that claimed that people learn L2 through getting comprehensible input. Nao said, “Mr. Wat is very good at giving an English lesson using English. I went to a seminar and observed his model lesson.” Mr. Wat could be seen as a member of both global TESOL and the teachers’ association, and he worked as a broker. He also brought in the new approach as a boundary object. It may be that Mr. Wat’s teaching experience in high school and his teaching qualifications and skills were factors that legitimized his membership in the teachers’ association.


Nao belonged to multiple CoPs and learned from other members through doing, talking, and observing. He improved his speaking and teaching skills with the help of the ALT, learned how to motivate students from Michi’s book, and learned a new teaching approach from Mr. Wat. Nao said that he later modified the approach and generated his own oral introduction methodology to fit his own teaching context.

Although Nao developed his own context-appropriate methodology, in the process of his learning, Michi and Mr. Wat (the ALT was not included here because Nao said that the ALT had not specialized in TESOL) worked as brokers and connected Nao to the global TESOL community. If Michi and Mr. Wat were marginalized in the local communities, they might not have been able to connect Nao to the global community.

Figure 1 describes the relationship among multiple CoPs. It indicates that a broker and a boundary object connect people in various ways to CoPs to which they do not belong. In light of growing global interconnection and communication, the number of brokers and boundary objects among local and global TESOL communities should increase so that the constellation of CoPs can network and share locally appropriate methodologies to build a Global TESOL project.

Figure 1

Finally, I suggest that in order to maintain curricular innovation and educational reform successfully, there need to be brokers between a teachers’ community and a community that promotes innovative practice. Ideally, instructors in teacher-training programs should become at least peripheral members of the teachers’ communities. For that purpose, as a first step, teachers can share activities in teachers’ meetings. Also, expert teachers who have learned in different communities could be brokers like Michi. In Japanese high school situations, ALTs, from both English speaking and non-English-speaking countries, should be treated as members of teachers’ communities so that they could be brokers too. In addition, school administrators should guarantee time and opportunities for teachers to share practices in their multiple CoPs because, as this study indicates, teachers can learn new practices through working with, talking to, and observing other members.


Dӧrnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nishino, T. (2008). Communicative language teaching in Japanese high schools: Teachers’ beliefs and classroom practices. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, Japan.

Nishino, T., & Watanabe, M. (2008). Communication-oriented policies versus classroom realities in Japan. TESOL Quarterly, 42, 133–138.

Kenkyuukai, S. (2008). Eigo kyouin shidouryoku koujou kenshuu ni tsuite no ankeeto [A questionnaire on the in-service teacher training programs]. The New English Classroom, 463, 10–12.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jane Hoelker, jhoelker@gmail.com

I continued the discussion by explaining how shared practices move reform forward in a model school for boys at the elementary level in Doha, Qatar. I had interviewed Dr. John McKeown, a consultant with Mosaica. Dr. John began the interview with this quote by Wenger (1998): “We cannot learn without belonging and we cannot belong without learning practice norms, values . . . because practices go to the core of a person’s identity.” Dr. John explained that in his school the educators create what they need in their context; they do not conform to some “ideal” standard.

In the school where Dr. John consulted, the faculty established ways to work together to nurture shared practices to move the reform agenda forward harmoniously. They developed mutually beneficial aims and established a cooperative rapport between the teachers and trainers of many different cultures. Shared practices builds bridges between teachers who are often isolated by the teacher-centered pedagogical style. Faculty also created opportunities to implement student-centered methodology, which promoted a positive school culture and a collective vision through curriculum initiatives.

In traditional schools in the context in which Dr. John was working, the usual past practice was for the teacher to lecture. Students did not have books, pens, or paper, or did not bring them to the class. The teacher felt compelled to deliver the instruction and resorted to the lecture style under these circumstances. After about 10 minutes, the students interrupted with questions; the instructor answered them and then returned to lecturing. Under these circumstances, lesson plans were not prepared.

To reform this system, Dr. John and his faculty developed a toolkit of four major practices. First, feedback was accepted from multiple sources; it was immediate and opinions met evidence. All involved promised to receive and act on feedback. They developed a technique to clarify communication (and one that might improve communication in many marriages): Can you repeat what you think I said?

The second practice was to maintain professional standards. The faculty expected results and tracked changes. Novice faculty mixed with experienced faculty so that the energy of the new and the experience of the wise mingled and supported each other. Model lessons were designed and shared so that approaches and activities could be imitated. The veterans reported that they learned new techniques from the newer faculty; the novice teachers appreciated the support from the experienced instructors in solving problems. All agreed that “not knowing” was not a negative and that improvement in the students’ attitude gave status to the teacher.

The third practice was agreeing to interact with each other and learn from each other. Working in the same position or the same institution is not participating in a community of practice (CoP). To truly participate in a CoP requires a change in attitude. When attitude changes, practice changes. Dr. John claims that a change in attitude in only 11 percent of a staff enables that staff to move forward and implement effective change.

Establishing trust was the fourth practice, which all promoted and in which all actively engaged. After the first meeting, the staff shared a meal and socialized. Supervisors regarded themselves and were regarded by the faculty as a resource. Thus, during an observation of a lesson, the supervisor asked the teacher to select a strategy, attitude, or approach to improve rather than telling the teacher what he or she should do the next time. The belief was that only the teacher who is in the classroom everyday interacting with the students can determine what needs to be improved and how to improve it. The supervisors and faculty selected what was doable for the next time and did not try to “eat the whole elephant.” They agreed to “take one bite out of the elephant at a time.”

Next, testimony from the curriculum, math, and science coordinators was discussed. The curriculum coordinator stated that he observed that the “me” was transformed into a “we.” On his committee were six instructors (four Egyptians and two Syrians). Although they came from different backgrounds, they shared the same values and worked as a team. As the curriculum coordinator, he set the tone by stating that he was not someone to make their job harder, but a resource to share, like a library. They agreed to teach where the students are or select as the starting point in the curriculum where the students needed to begin. Their motto was whatever has to be done, just do it! For example, the curriculum coordinator discovered that no textbook policy had been instituted.

He realized that he had to establish a policy when after several weeks, the 3,000 books that had been ordered for the new academic year remained in the storeroom in boxes. No specifics had been written up on how to distribute the textbooks or on which books were class books, or library books, or which were to be distributed to the students to take home and study. If students were absent on the day that the books were distributed, how were they to collect their books upon their return to class? He set up a system and began to categorize them and number each of the 3,000 books himself. He was pleasantly surprised to observe that as the instructors saw what he was doing, they volunteered to assist him. The man hours required to categorize, number, and distribute the books totaled 80, but he reported the investment of time was satisfying when he saw students using their books. He witnessed the direct benefit to the students. The recommendation of the curriculum coordinator was to take baby steps and celebrate each step.

Next, the math coordinator discussed the new practices that he and his team implemented. He enjoys photography and decided to set up a group bulletin board where he posted photos of new practices being started in the math classroom. A content wiki was established to share practices in order to meet the standards of the Supreme Education Council. He purchased and brought to the classroom tracing paper so students could actively engage in problem solving instead of simply listening to a lecture. He modeled lessons for his team. He put smiley faces on completed classwork, which motivated the students. He noticed that the some students failed to bring pencils to the classroom and, therefore, could not engage in classwork. He purchased a huge plastic bag and several boxes of pencils, which he sharpened, and carried the bag to class so he could lend a pencil to those students who did not bring one. When he was questioned by curious colleagues as to why he was carrying around the bag, he explained that this is what teachers do. He began to observe that the others on his team began to imitate his practice and also his explanation to the curious by repeating, “This is what teachers do.” This became the motto of pride for the math team for any new practice throughout the year. The math coordinator arranged a site visit of the library at Qatar Academy and was surprised to find considerable resistance to the visit. After many discussions, he persuaded his team to go on the site visit. After the visit, they enthusiastically began to discuss the many ideas they had on how to reorganize their own library. The math coordinator interpreted the initial resistance as fear on the part of the team at learning something new and the transformation in their attitude as a great success. The recommendation of the math coordinator was to debrief and to tease out what needed to be discussed at the moment.

The third testimony was given by the science coordinator. He explained that his team realized that they had to assess the students’ language level in both Arabic and English. To improve the students’ ability in vocabulary, they created word walls of content-specific vocabulary. As a result of working together and discussions, the team members grew in confidence and began to volunteer for tasks. They would say, “I can order the textbooks in the spring. That way we will not wait until September to order them and try to teach for several weeks without books. I can do that.” The standards of the Supreme Education Council (SEC) were discussed and gradually the assessment practices were changed to reflect the standards. The science coordinator reported that he felt extremely satisfied when he observed a team member walk up to read the enlarged SEC standards posted on the common-room wall and quietly tick off a practice that he had started to implement in his classroom. Gradually, over the year he observed that with the reduction of fear, his team took risk more often and implemented new ideas and strategies. The recommendation of the science coordinator was to have specific times to share among team members what is learned.

Finally, Dr. John concluded the interview with three observations and comments of his own. First, he recounted the story of a veteran teacher who did not engage in the new practice of putting his portfolio in the reception area where visitors to the school and parents could read it. After several months, Dr. John discussed this omission with the veteran teacher. He said, “I am sorry, but your portfolio is empty. I don’t know what the visitors will think.” After a couple of days, he noted that the veteran had changed his attitude and began displaying his students’ work and his handouts in the portfolio. Dr. John’s second comment was that initially parents expressed concern at parents’ night that the students were enjoying school too much. That must mean that the curriculum was too easy. The teachers explained that the students were now put at the center of the learning process and the lecture approach was no longer practiced. This calmed the parents and they began to understand the reform process. Finally, the parents reported at a parents’ night a few months later that they observed their children reflecting more on how they were spending their allowance. They debated whether they would spend the money immediately or save it for a larger purchase later—they were planning for the future.


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.


Whether shared practices are implemented by students planning an event in a tertiary institution, or in a distributed practice like the Webheads, or by educators engaged in multimembership to achieve professional development, or in a primary institution in a country reforming its education system like Qatar, the successful and inspiring development of the human potential can be witnessed.

EFLIS InterSection with ESPIS and ICIS at the Denver Convention 2009

Toni Hull, Chair, toni_hull2002@yahoo.com

Every year, each IS is given one InterSection session for which it is the primary organizer. For the Denver 2009 convention, it was our pleasure to invite the ESPIS and the ICIS to join our InterSection panel. The title of the session was “Beyond Linguistic Skills: English As a Language of Intercultural Communication.” Recognizing the wide variety of teaching contexts in which EFL and ESL professionals work, not to mention the many locations, the panel considered the thesis that effective ESP instruction should not neglect the central role of culture in communicative behavior. Panel presenters investigated the ways that EFL and ESL teachers help students through innovative practices in needs analysis, course content, and assessment tools.

The panel included five presenters. Representing EFLIS were Vanessa Austin from Universidad Adventista de las Antillas in Puerto Rico, USA, and Toni Hull, an independent teacher and teacher-trainer working most recently in Russia and Vietnam. Karen Schwelle from WashingtonUniversity, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, and Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan, from the Language Center of Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, represented ESPIS. Joshua Borden of the University of London, United Kingdom, represented ICIS.

The session was well attended, with audience members contributing thoughtful follow-up questions in the concluding minutes. Overall, it was an excellent collaboration between our three interest sections, and we look forward to future joint sessions. EFLIS thanks all of the presenters for their contribution to the 2009 convention and EFLIS’s presence.

Following is a brief review of the five presentations.

The session began with Karen Schwelle’s presentation “Navigating the Culture and Language of Social Work in the United States.” As Karen explained, nonnative-English-speaking international students entering a master of social work (MSW) program in the United States confront a daunting set of linguistic and cultural challenges. In addition to handling a heavy reading load, frequent writing assignments, and fast-paced class discussions, MSW students must openly discuss issues that are sensitive or taboo in many cultures. Moreover, MSW students must discuss these issues in classroom settings that regularly place students into pair and group role plays to practice evidence-based client interview techniques. Karen’s presentation outlined how a university ESL program collaborated with its institution’s School of Social Work to support MSW students through an ESL course specially designed to help students learn the communication skills demanded of them in their MSW program.

In her presentation, “Redefining the Paradigm,” Vanessa Austin posited that within the context of English as a lingua franca, the English proficiency of native speakers of Spanish residing in Puerto Rico bears reexamination to acknowledge the social psychological paradox present in intercultural exchanges. Vanessa’s thesis was that discussion of local knowledge as context-bound and community specificresonates during consideration of the unique position of English language learners on the island. Social practices appear to contribute to diffidence with regard to developing second language proficiency among many island-raised Puerto Ricans. The island has a past characterized by domination and dependence. Linked to the politics and ideology of other countries, the acquisition of English as a foreign language in Puerto Rico presents dissonance with regard to cultural maintenance. Mastery of English for career advancement usually comes at the cost of assimilation. Puerto Ricans, citizens of America, are generally regarded as foreigners within the United States. The challenges to language policy and practice within the context of intercultural communication are daunting.

Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan’s presentation “Communicative Competence Model in English Language Instruction” discussed the pros and cons of the communicative competence model (CCM) in EFL teaching. He argued that with the emergence of World Englishes and the much orchestrated Global or International English, EFL/ESL instructors are often faced with a variety/standard dilemma. Shahid maintained that considering the global contours of English language use and the significance of local context, a universal linguistic model or standard cannot capture the complexity of issues that concern EFL teaching worldwide. Communicative competence is recognized as a prime objective in language instruction. A language-teaching practice focusing on the development of communicative competence can address both local and universal dimensions of EFL teaching. First, the CCM trains learners to be effective communicators of English in a locally contextualized world. Second, the model relates EFL instruction to the world learners live in.

In his presentation, “Intercultural Communicative Challenges of East Asian English Language Learners,” Joshua Borden suggested that intercultural communication problems often emerge as observable patterns related to the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of the interlocutors and the contexts in which they interact. He further discussed communicative challenges faced by nonnative English speakers from East Asian cultural backgrounds when communicating in English as a lingua franca in both an East-West and Pan-Asian context. He also highlighted the significance of cultural influences on communicative patterns as reflected in several examples of real-life situations, and illustrated how a culture-sensitive approach to language education can help students to communicate more successfully with native English speakers and with interlocutors from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. In conclusion he offered some tips to teachers on assessing IC needs of their own students and provided examples of methods he has used to increase students’ IC competence.

Toni Hull’s presentation, “International Target Culture in Business English,” began with the thesis that what language learners think they need and what they really need are very often quite different. Her presentation reviewed the implementation of a needs analysis project developed for Business English clients in Moscow, Russia, designed specifically to help students see beyond obvious and limiting notions of target language and culture and enter into a more expansive experience of language learning. The idea of international target culture was promoted as a pedagogical goal that naturally leads to incorporating principles of intercultural communication. Inherent in Toni’s project was an assumption that the “native-speaker standard” is a myth, and it is incumbent on any teacher, of whatever background, to help students recognize this. In the context of this project, the result was that both students and teacher broke free from the constraints of a Russian-U.S. American discourse.

How to Submit a Proposal for the TESOL Convention

Natalia Orlova, orlova@pf.ujep.cz, University of J.E. Purkyne, Czech Republic

As a TESOL member since 1998, I do my best to attend TESOL conventions on a regular basis. I believe that a TESOL convention, as a “festival of ideas,” offers multiple avenues for professional development. Regular participation in TESOL conventions gives me a joyful feeling of belonging to the professional community, as the exchange of ideas with like-minded colleagues is a source of constant inspiration for further research and practice. Last year’s convention, during which I participated as a presenter, was my fifth. I would like to share my experience as a presenter and provide some advice on how to submit a proposal and be accepted.

The first step is to clearly define the topic of presentation. It is also good to discuss it with some of your colleagues, as a glance from a different perspective may lead you to an unexpected but interesting solution.

Second, write a short draft of your proposal—not more than 300 words, as proposals that exceed this limit are disqualified. It is a must to state clearly the purpose of your presentation and your point of view on the matter in question. Be sure that you have included evidence of current practices and research, supporting it with relevant details and examples.

Third, on the basis of the proposal write the abstract that will describe your session. As a rule, abstracts should not exceed 50 words and they have to be written in the third-person present tense. I consider this step as a very important one because the abstract is included in the convention program book and helps the convention attendees to select the session according to their professional interests and field of research. There is nothing more irritating than to come to a session and find out that the presentation does not correspond with the content declared in the abstract.

The next step is to finalize the title of your submission. It should be short (seven words as a rule), and it should draw the attention of the right audience. At the convention the atmosphere is friendly and democratic. No one has to sit until the end of a session if its content neither coincides with the title announced in the program nor meets the expectations of the participant.

It is also important to select the type of presentation you plan to give and include its description in your proposal, whether it is a paper, demonstration, report, workshop, colloquium, or poster session. The time format of workshops and colloquia is usually 1 hour and 45 minutes, while reports are limited to 20 minutes. I personally prefer demonstrations (they usually last 45 minutes), because this format presupposes an emphasis on showing a technique instead of a wordy oral description, and it also welcomes the use of audiovisual aids and handouts.

As all proposals are blindly or anonymously reviewed, another important step is to select the appropriate interest section out of the currently wide spectrum of 19 categories, including English as a Foreign Language, Applied Linguistics, Computer-Assisted Language Learning, and Intensive English Programs. Since I teach prospective teachers of EFL, I usually address my proposals to the Teacher Education Interest Section for review.

It is also necessary to visit the TESOL site and check the submission requirements carefully. All submissions should conform to certain criteria, which include the proposal’s clarity and succinctness, the relevance of the topic it addresses, and its interest for the professional community. Proposals that do not meet the requirements are disqualified without further submission.

Finally, proofread your submission. Ask a colleague to do you a favor and read your proposal. This last point is absolutely a must for me. I always seek the help of my native-English-speaking colleagues to give a final polish to my piece of writing.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that we, as nonnative-English-speaking teachers, should not underestimate our contribution to the TESOL field. We should share our ideas with professionals in other contexts and language environments, thus making our voice heard by the TESOL community.

Announcements and Information

Announcements and Information

EFLIS at TESOL’s 44th Annual Convention & Exhibit

The EFLIS has been allotted 57 slots on the convention program in addition to the nonrefereed Academic Sessions and InterSections. If Boston is not included in your travel plans this year, you will still have the opportunity to attend some of the many sessions presented there. TESOL will be recording selected sessions and featuring them in the TESOL Resource Center after the conference. Visit the Resource Center here.

If you are coming to Boston, we hope to see you at the IS open meeting on Thursday, March 26, from 5 to 7 pm. Check the program for our meeting room.

English As a Foreign Language Interest Section Leadership (2009–2010)

Here is the list of current leaders of the EFLIS:

Chair: Toni Hull

E-mail: toni_hull2002@yahoo.com

Chair-Elect: Ke Xu

E-mail: kexu@aol.com

Joining the EFLIS e-List

We would now like to invite you to become more involved in the EFLIS—especially to join our EFLIS e-list. You may not know that participation in TESOL electronic discussion lists is a member benefit or that e-lists are a new way to get IS work done.

The EFLIS uses its e-list for (among other things) nominating officers. Online voting will begin at the end of February.

Instructions about how to join the EFLIS e-list can be found on the TESOL Web site under “My Communities” after you have logged in. Please consider joining the EFLIS e-list now.