Review of iTDi Advanced Course: THE Path to Academic Success

Having recently finished and submitted the 4th and final assignment for my first ever iTDi advanced development course, I am quite literally right this second ironically reaping the benefits. If you cannot figure this out and are interested in reading a review of the my experience on the course, please read on.

Who and what?

iTDi is the International Teacher Development Institute: an online teacher development organisation run by teachers, for teachers. They run month long online courses with distinguished presenters in the field. I came cross them by chance online and signed up to THE Path to Academic English with Stephen Krashen.

One of the first pieces of advice received – a warning almost to candidates: Dr. Krashen does not like overly-long, wordy, convoluted, meta-technical, statistically heavy, blabbering and using a lot of words but not really saying anything new or interesting or getting to the point, if indeed there is a point articles. Get it?

That was lesson number one. I appreciated his passion for short and strong articles as it was reflected in the reading material for the course. Case studies, statistical analysis and hypotheses could make for heavy reading. However, this was not the case as we were provided links to vast majority succinct and accessible articles written by Dr. Krashen. All are available for free on his website by the way.

There were to be four assignments, one per week. To be written based on the reading material and webinar sessions. Reading the material prior to the sessions was important to get the most out of the webinars. This was an achievable goal even if working full-time. Especially as I found most of the material to be genuinely engaging. Each submitted assignment was read and commented on by Dr. Krashen. To have this personalised feedback on my written work from such a distinguished member of the ELT community was one of the highlights of the course.

Compelling

I won’t go into the content of the course much here. I’m saving that for a ‘things I learned from Krashen’ diary entry at a later date. Put simply: we moved from a background on Krashen’s theories of language acquisition and his famous hypotheses to the power of reading as the bridge between conversational English and academic language. The middle of the course targeted public schools in the USA and the research links between poverty, reading and academic success. If the explanations of these links started out as thought-provoking, by the end of week four when Krashen tore into the role of testing, they had turned into images of dystopian horror. It made for fascinating listening that pushed me into some internet research of my own, the results of which did not make me sleep any better.

Dr. Krashen is quite the speaker – eloquent, convincing, passionate and full of charming anecdotes to lighten the mood. The webinars were a pleasure to view (even though I couldn’t take part live due to work). And the hosts, Stephen and Barbara made sure everything ran smoothly, despite a time zone issue in week one. Email correspondence kept everyone up to date and reminded. They were also very flexible with not only deadlines for assignments but the topics too, with participants encouraged to write about something that interested them, related to the course material.

Dr. Krashen expressed his love for maths and statistics. This became clear through the course with plenty of stastical analysis. If you were like me bemused by the term ‘beta’ and not au fait with ‘r2’ some of these moments passed me by slightly. However research data was not dwelt on and always explained in the simplest terms and for a relevant purpose.

So what is the path the academic English?

It is not in formal instruction but reading. Narrow, self-selected, compelling input.

Is testing helpful? No. Is making students write essays going to make them smarter and better at writing? No. But it will make them more creative and help them solve problems. One of my favourite quotes from the course is this:

“Inspiration is the result of writing, not the cause” Boice

Applications, effects and benefits

This brings me to how the course has affected my teaching and the way I look at reading. Reading is the key predictor for academic success across the board. I’ve already introduced a SSR program with one of my young learner classes , to help encourage the reading habit. My kids love it, you can see what happened in the first of these SSR experiment classes in another of my blog posts (http://jamieclaytonideas.blogspot.com/2015/02/sustained-silent-reading-with-my-young.html?view=flipcard)

And what of the personal benefits I alluded to? This is it. I learned of the power of daily regular writing. And the facets of the composing process: re-drafting, incubation, editing. I write every day now, and not just about teaching.

I would say this course has had more of an effect on me personally – on my own habits – rather than teaching me about teaching practice. Some participants on the course hoping for direct information about how to teach academic English may well have been disappointed in this regard. It was for the most part about the input hypothesis and the importance of reading for acquisition and developing academic interlanguage, as well as the role of writing in solving problems and being creative. Thankfully for me, I was attending the course purely out of interest in kickstarting my own online professional development, not because I was about to start teaching academic English.

Here are some more of my favourite quotes from the course:

“If language acquisition is happening we can assume it’s pleasurable for all involved.” (Krashen)

“Onf of the thing I’m most grateful to my father for is that contrary to educational principles, he allowed me read comics.” (Desmond Tutu)

“Classroom discourse is closer to conversational language than to academic language” (Biber, 2006)

“Mediocre writers write, good writers re-write.” (Neil Simon)

“Problem solving often requires a break from conscious thought.” (Wallas, 1926) But, “There must be a preliminary period of conscious work which also precedes all fruitful unconscious labour.” (Pointcare, 1924)

“Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it.” (Madelaine L’Engle)

“The first draft of anything, is shit.” (Hemmingway)

“No unneccesary testing.” (Krashen)

Thanks for reading.

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