Please tell us a few things about yourself and your involvement in education.
First of all, many thanks for your interest in interviewing me. I began my career teaching French and German to 11-18 year olds in secondary schools in London, where I taught for eleven years. This is where I did my MA in Urban Education and became committed to the idea that multilingualism is a huge resource for language teachers of any language. (My last school in London had over 40 languages spoken by pupils.) With my wife and baby daughter, I then moved back home to Sheffield, and continued teaching in a secondary school for another few years. This was where I really took my work on flexible learning further, which sowed the seeds of my later work on learner autonomy. Deciding that I wanted to remain involved in languages and teaching, I moved into higher education, working with pre-service and in-service language teachers. I also became very involved in the national language teacher association (ALL, the Association for Language Learning), and eventually became President. My work has since extended into research and this has brought me into contact with many teachers around the world, which is a brilliant opportunity to keep on learning about education. I’ve also worked closely with our Government on language policy, which is always fascinating and a huge privilege as it means really being able to make a difference.
What attracted you to the field of education?
I think probably two things one was that ’d done voluntary work with children in a very poor part of Birmingham when I was an undergraduate, and loved it; the second was the desire to do something that gave me ongoing opportunities to work with languages, which I am passionate about.
Which are some of the most memorable highlights of your career in education?
Such a hard question! Working with children, university students and teachers brings highlights on a regular basis, because whatever stage you are at in your career, you learn something exciting! However, key highlights for me include becoming President of ALL and then of FIPLV (the International Federation of Language Teacher Associations), which provides an opportunity to work with teachers all round the world. Receiving a medal from the French Prime Minister was definitely a highlight, as I was able to take along family and friends. And most recently, a few weeks ago I was presented with a Senate Award for sustained excellence in learning and teaching’ by my University, and again my family was able to be present in the graduation ceremony. Then most recently, last week in fact, heard that ’d been given a personal chair and am now a Professor of Languages and Pedagogy!
Which aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy working with all students and teachers, but most of all I enjoy working with people from different countries. I learn so much from the ways in which they perceive the world, and believe that it is the biggest privilege to be able to travel to meet people in their own contexts.
What are you working on now?
I’m actually spending a lot of time in my role of director of learning and Teaching, developing new programmes in the School of Education. In particular, I’m developing new international programmes to build on our existing ones, and these include international postgraduate programmes which are at PG Certificate, Diploma and Masters levels. These involve extending our work on distance and online learning, and we are very excited about the ways in which these programmes will enable teachers from all over the world to work together to enhance learning and teaching. Apart from this, I’m working on a book on language and education policy, and preparing for a symposium on learner autonomy, space and place, which I’ve convened together with a colleague in Japan, Garold Murray, and which will take place in Brisbane, Australia in August. This will then also become a book.
What are your professional plans for the future?
I am increasingly working across the University on learning and teaching issues there, as well as with the city of Sheffield on a scheme to recognize the 140 languages spoken in the city. I’m also applying for research funding, and working on the programme developments I just mentioned.
What should your audience expect to learn during the plenary session at the 21st TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Convention?
My focus will be on 21st century learners, and what it means to be a learner in our rapidly changing and increasingly small world. Basically I will argue that our learners need now more than ever to learn how to take responsibility for their learning so that they can become lifelong learners. This connects with my field of learner autonomy, which ’ll pick up further in the workshop. However, what hope most of all is that teachers will learn that they are already doing many of the things that we are talking about, and that through greater awareness can build on this more easily. I also plan that they will learn from each other in the workshop. To me it is most important to help teachers to connect their own practice to theory, as this makes finding solutions so much easier. It also teaches them to try out ideas and to tap into, and value, their own expertise.
Learner autonomy is among your areas of interest. How much autonomy should teachers give their students and how important is this autonomy in the process of learning? In what ways can teachers increase student autonomy in a language classroom?
That is a very big set of questions! I’ll explore them in Thessaloniki, but for now let’s just say that we mostly learn, and remember, what we need to learn and what makes sense to us, so having some control over the process is essential to ongoing motivation. Also, no one else can actually learn for us. For teachers, this means providing opportunities for learners to make choices wherever possible (which doesn’t mean they can simply do what they want to all the time), and to reflect on how they have learnt and how they might do it differently next time. However, this is a gradual process as many learners need to build the skills and confidence to take control of their learning and to develop a learner identity. Teachers therefore need to have this in mind when planning their lessons and teaching in the classroom, so that their learners can become better learners as well as better linguists. That way, we are equipping them with the skills and motivation to continue learning throughout life, when we are no longer there to teach them. n other words, it’s a bit like being a parent, where our job is to enable our children to cope without us.
Thank you very much,
for TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece