Day 2 IATEFL Plenary: Notes and Thoughts

The efficiency of inefficiency: an ecological perspective on curriculum by Kathleen Graves

I watched the plenary online this morning along with about 70 other viewers, and I took a lot of notes in the hope to post about the session soon. Almost 7 hours later I see that I am not the one who is thinking and writing fast today, so I would like to share two links I found:

Lizzie Pinard is sharing her detailed notes on the plenary

Graham Stanley is not only writes about the session but also adds what he notices in the comments during the session, and on Twitter (worth checking out!)

Mike Harrison managed to create a live blog post literally from the session!

The way I approach the same plenary in a little different way: I am not aiming to retell the presentation (many of you have already seen it, or will see as soon as the recording becomes available). I will be sharing some of my notes then adding related thoughts and ideas that came to mind.


My notes:

The presenter starts by saying that she hopes to look at meeting educational goals in lasting ways. She defines efficiency and compares educating students with healing patients. I wrote this down: time-costly caring creates relationship, and this relationship brings long-term healing, not short-term result. Examples of such caring for the patient are: doing little personal things, giving a glass of water, knitting a blanket, creating a garden, etc.

My thoughts:

I like the idea of looking further than a clear end-of-year or even end-of-school goal for language students (much more than ‘to pass the test’) I think trading this so-called ‘efficiency’ and getting more human-to-human interaction motivated me to watch the plenary (and made me curious how such elements can be built into a curriculum)

My notes:

Learning a language is a process that takes time (not efficiency, but a human process — organic, unpredictable, dynamic).

In the example on the image below you can see a dialogue in 2 colors (the presenter was using it to illustrate teacher and student interaction in class)

Image used with permission

Image used with permission

My thoughts:

It is definitely more than simply providing the correct answer to a student, or demanding a correct usage of a language form ignoring the meaning. I really liked the above example showing how the same learning outcome could be reached in there-line exchange with a student, or in twelve-line conversation. Quicker does not mean better.


My notes:

Classroom can be seen as eco system with people (learners and teachers), curriculum (materials and concepts), environment (physical and social) being its elements, interacting with each other.


Therefore, the Ecological Approach takes five factors into account:

people (learners and teachers)

relationships and interactions

quality (not standard, but quality!)

autonomy (as authorship of actions and speech)

agency (activity, movement)


My thoughts:

Noticing how these five factors show themselves in a lesson can be a good (self) observation or reflection task for a teacher. Discussing those factors can become a lens (or angle) for lesson’s analysis on a training course, for example. Besides, they can be an interesting set of criteria for a curriculum or a course (for teachers). I think the ‘classroom as an eco system’ has a lot of potential for teacher education and development.


My notes:

Classroom is NOT a place to transmit ideas BUT it is more a community (working together, side by side or on their own)

My thoughts:

Similarly to the earlier example with the hospital’s (in)efficiency in helping patients, a classroom is seen as a place and space to grow relationship, and therefore it fosters healing, or learning, in both process and result. It reminds me of another expression I often hear in business context: ‘company culture has a human face’. I think this might sound like a very simplistic (or even naive) solution, but perhaps keeping this ‘human’ part in language education (surviving all the tests and standardizations) is so much needed.


My notes:

The quality of learners’ experience [in class] matters and helps

My thoughts:

I think it helps on many levels, including establishing positive attitude to the subject and to the learning process, helps to strengthen relationships, boosts self-confidence. I think I saw all these in the video with the kids playing Jeopardy game in teams (even though they were not producing much language, I could hear)


I am wondering if those of you who watched her talk have the same or different ideas and thoughts? Do you take these ecological factors into account while planning and teaching your lessons (or working with other teachers)?


About Zhenya

teacher educator, evidence-based instruction trainer, PD Coach
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4 Responses to Day 2 IATEFL Plenary: Notes and Thoughts

  1. careymicaela says:

    What a fascinating session! I haven’t had much time to follow IATEFL- we’re finishing up this trimester so I’m swamped with progress reports, etc. I hope to watch some of the recorded sessions as soon as I can. Thanks for sharing your notes and thoughts on what you saw. You’ve definitely piqued my interest. 🙂



    • Zhenya says:

      Micaela, you are welcome (I think this presentation is really worth watching and listening, as well as many others) Good luck with finishing the trimester – I know how much paperwork, among other things, it might involve! Thank you for finding time and leaving your comment!


  2. Hi Zhenya, I really like the way you have approached your post by sharing you notes and then your thoughts. It’s interesting to see how you have interpreted the talk, and I especially like (and agree with) how you linked the Ecological Approach to reflection and observation. It’s something that I will definitely take into consideration more during my reflections.


    • Zhenya says:

      David, thank you for mentioning this idea about reflection and observation using the factors from the Ecological Approach. I am glad it resonates with you (already two of us thinking in this direction) Thank you so much for reading (and sharing!) I am also hoping to watch Day 3 plenary, which is very soon.


Eager to hear what you think!

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