Abu Dhabi: The 3rd TESOL Arabia Annual SIG Conference

Panel Discussion participants. Left to right – Dr. Mouhamad Mouhanna, Dr. Sabina Ashraf, Dr Tony Waterman, Dr. A. Michael Riskus, Dr. Asli Hassan, Dr. Muna Balfaqeeh.

As we come to a close on this academic year we need to take time to reflect on what has been a hive of activity for all TESOL Arabia SIGs who have dedicated their time and expertise to provide a wide variety of professional development opportunities for the diverse ELT communities we serve.

The main event for the year which involves all the SIGs is the Annual SIG Conference and the third of which took place on the 29th April at the Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi. The theme of the conference – Learners and Teachers: Partnering for Excellence in ELT Education was very well received by a large delegation of language teaching professionals. Lynne Robinson, one of the main organizers at the PI was extremely hospitable in ensuring coffee and snacks were on hand throughout the day and also arranged a delicious lunch which provided respite for those wishing to network and reflect on the events of the day. Publishers Diglossia, Oxford, and Cambridge were also present to display their latest language teaching materials providing attendees an alternative method of professional development.

The event hosted two plenary speakers, sixteen concurrent sessions, two roundtable discussions and came to a close with a panel discussion which reflected on the theme of the conference. The first plenary speaker of the day, Dr A. Michael Riskus discussed professional learning communities (PLCs) as an alternative approach to professional development. Dr. Riskus has successfully established PLCs in schools in Phoenix, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi and his current work at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi promotes alternative approaches to professional development. During the plenary session Dr. Riskus emphasized that teacher learning and growth is enhanced when it includes hands on practice in a social context, when teachers have input on what and how they will learn and when relationships between new learning and individual classrooms are clear.

Dr. Tony Waterman, an ESL instructor currently working at the Royal Air Force in Oman, delivered the second plenary speech. The talk – Producing an Effective Syllabus Design – explored the role of the syllabus in English language programmes, an area most relevant to all. Dr. Waterman began the plenary by asking delegates to contemplate the current syllabus used for the courses they currently teach. After providing examples of what is not a syllabus, Dr. Waterman continued his talk by showcasing an ESP syllabus from his own work and gave examples of best practice in the academic literature related to syllabus design. He used his wealth of experience and findings from his doctoral research to provide guidelines for institutions to ensure they have well-planned, clear and detailed syllabi that promote professionalism in ELT. Syllabus design needs to support the work of educationalists who in turn are required to support learners and ensure learners enjoy success in their language studies.

An exciting new development for TESOL Arabia occurred during the plenary speeches which ear-marked our online professional development presence. In an attempt to reach members further afield and to encourage online discussion both plenary sessions were streamed ‘live’ on the TESOL Arabia and the EdTech SIG Facebook pages. The EdTech SIG Chair, Faith Nightingale kindly facilitated the ‘live’ stream and encouraged the online discussion. This was well received and resulted in many delegates watching the plenary speeches online and sending in their questions for the speakers. We hope that this can become a more regular occurrence so that the expertise of the TESOL Arabia members can be shared throughout the region in an attempt to reach those in areas without access to professional development. Please make sure you follow the TESOL Arabia events calendar and follow us on social media to gain access to the live events or even to follow up after the event has taken place.

TESOL Arabia 3rd Annual SIG Conference participants

The day came to a close with the panel discussion which included experts in the field sharing their insights from the day. Although the experts have diverse research interests when probed a clear message emerged suggesting that educationalists are required to engage learners using methods and support mechanisms which promote critical thinking, independent learning activities that are creative and hands on without basing assumptions on the capabilities of the learners. ELT professionals need to look at new ways to engage the learners of today and to seek professional development to suit themselves and their social context.

We look forward to another year of collaboration in our professional learning communities at TESOL Arabia SIG events.

By Helene C. Demirci – TESOL Arabia SIG Conference