IATEFL reflections


Nandhaka Pieris (NALDIC’s project officer) attended the IATEFL conference in Glasgow recently and sends this report. This post was originally published on Nandhaka’s personal blog.

Happy Easter and happy reading! 

Nandhaka Peiris

Nandhaka Pieris


In this Inclusive Practices and SEND post, I am going to briefly round up the talks I attended which considered ELT or EAL when teaching learners who have SEN, most of which occurred during either the IP&SEN SIG’s Day or Pre-Conference Event.

The IP & SEND posts in the IATEFL Reflections 2017 series are:

  • IP&SEN SIG PCE “Inclusion in Action” | 3rd April 2017
  • Pre-Conference Day | 3rd April 2017
  • IP&SEN SIG Day | 6th April 2017



3RD APRIL 2017

Established in 2016, the IP & SEN SIG is the newest IATEFL Special Interest Group, and their 2017 Pre-conference event “Inclusion in Action” served as their inauguration.

In this post, I briefly describe some of the talks, giving a more personal depiction of the day in IATEFL REFLECTIONS 2007 – Pt.3. I don’t recount sessions in full, just a few thoughts which appealed to one of my various hats!

Sessions in this post:

  • Storytelling | Andrew Wright
  • Self-Esteem | Rachael Harris
  • The Language of Inclusive Education | Anne Margaret Smith
  • Assessment for Learning | Phil Dexter



There was much to take away from his contributions, not least a reflection on the power of storytelling in language learning – not simply reading stories, but encouraging and enabling learners to tell and publish their own.

This idea of publishing what students produce echoed sentiments expressed during the workshop “Using non-fiction CLIL texts to inspire and engage learners” from the NALDIC South London RIG team’s Gemma Fanning, which I attended the following day and will discuss in a later post. “Publish” could mean creating a hardcopy which can easily be copied and passed on to learners’ schools, friends or family; or an easy to distribute electronic version, which could be put on their school website or published in a wider domain. There are many potential benefits of sharing and celebrating their ideas and products beyond that one lesson or classroom, which I’ll touch on further when reflecting upon Gemma’s workshop.

“It’s not us and them: we are all special, we are all with special needs”

This is one of two quotes from Andrew which really resonated with conversations I’ve had with teachers over the years, from both EAL and SEND perspectives. Unfortunately, I’ve come across teachers who express nothing short of denial or terminal frustration when faced with having learners with ‘different needs’ in their class.

For me, Andrew’s phrase serves as a reminder of tolerance and understanding: we all have things we are good at and with which we struggle; we have different perspectives, approaches and ways of dealing with situations. Whether as teachers or students, we all have our individual needs and, let’s face it, things quite often go a lot more smoothly when they are met, or at least acknowledged. Give me a training session with lots of activities, singing or massaging (yes, I was at the Chartered College of Teaching’s inaugural London conference, which was otherwise great), and I probably won’t have the most positive attitude to learning, and will be wishing I was anywhere else!

“The less you do, the less mistakes you can make”

MistakesAndrew recounted the above as the reason given by a boy who had produced just a few lines for a presentation, much less than had been expected. I feel this is a representation of the sad learning environment and learning culture experienced by some students. It also reminded me of this poster I saw in one of the classrooms I use at school.

We should be encouraging our learners to take risks and experiment with their language. Telling them is not enough, we should be fostering a learning environment and culture where students feel safe to do so. Are trying, taking risks and making mistakes not all part of the learning process? Perhaps this, and some of the benefits of publishing students’ work, link quite well into my next section on self-esteem.



After a well-received coffee break (see my later comments on JJ Wilson’s plenary), Rachael Harris led a workshop “Improving Self-Esteem in the Inclusive Practices Classroom”, focusing on three questions:

  1. What is Self-Esteem?
  2. Why should we try to improve it?
  3. How can we improve it?

I won’t attempt to cover the contents of her workshop, as she does that quite comprehensively on her blog.

Improving self-esteem improves resilience

However, whilst discussing how raising self-esteem can help to boost students’ resilience, I was reminded of the importance of resilience for many EAL learners. The situations they find themselves in can easily turn to adversity academically, culturally and socially. Do we always give thought to their self-esteem and resilience, or does the urgency of accessing lessons and meeting academic targets often take precedence? If it does, is that a little short-sighted? After all, research suggests links between academic achievement and self-esteem.

Rachael Harris: Fab English ideas  |  @fabenglishteach



By “Inclusive Education”, we aren’t talking about withdrawal or giving learners completely unrelated work, whether in-class or out of class, but rather making education accessible, engaging and appropriate to every learner. The cornerstone of EAL and SEND principles.


The Evolution of Terminology

The terminology used in inclusive education has developed over the years. We were asked which of the following we recognised or used ourselves:

  • moron
  • dyslexic
  • educationally subnormal
  • ineducables
  • pecific learning difference
  • strephosymbolia
  • word blind
  • specific learning difficulty
  • reading disabled
  • neurodiverse
  • special educational needs

I have only encountered four, from an education perspective, but murmurs around the room betrayed a recognition of old (and sometimes current) adversaries.

Anne Margaret Smith argues that how we talk about inclusive education is important, because the language we use reflects and shapes our attitudes.

A term which I have seen more frequently of late is the ‘neurodiverse’, a term which reminds us of the massive range of cognitive function within the human race. Perhaps it is a good starting point, but more details are often required. If told about a student, “he is neurodiverse”, my first questions would be “how?” “in what way?”

It’s not just what we say, but also how we say it

It is not simply the terminology which is important, but also how we use language.

This was exemplified using the adjective ‘dyslexic’:

  • She is dyslexic.
  • She’s a dyslexic.
  • She’s a dyslexic student.

The first and last (adjective + noun) seem okay, describing a feature of a person. In the second, ‘dyslexic’ is used as a noun, reducing the person to that single feature. If you’re not sure about potential pitfalls about the second, would it be acceptable to change the sentence to “She’s a disabled”? How about “she has special educational needs” vs “she is special educational needs”? These are perhaps subtle, yet important distinctions. What do you think?


There has also been an evolution of the language used and attitudes held when thinking about EAL:

Policy changes

The “subject” name developments shown could suggest a move towards welcoming and integrating students within school societies, away from considering them as ‘foreign’ ‘newcomers’, who do not belong in mainstream classrooms. The shift to “Additional” language could also be an acknowledgement of the multilingualism or plurilingualism of many EAL learners, as well as the value of their languages other than English.

I’ll leave it to you to evaluate the extent to which these policy and language changes reflect societal and political discourse and attitudes.

Anne Margaret Smith: ELT Well  |  @amsELTwell



Although much of Phil’s interesting presentation was less relevant to the EAL contexts with which I am familiar, it did prompt a few questions in my mind.

Bell curveHe discussed the bell-shaped standard distribution curve, questioning whether measuring those with specific needs against the ‘normal’ was problematic, and whether there was a place for standardised testing at all. Prompted by his ideas, I found myself pondering whether the concept of truly creative teaching aimed to meet students’ individual needs and pace are at odds with the priorities of standardised tests and the entire mainstream system. It must be noted that the ELT contexts of which he was speaking are very different to mainstream EAL contexts. Within the pure field of language teaching, perhaps this is more of an issue than within EAL pedagogy, as EAL policy and teaching & learning are all about enabling and supporting access to the English language, British curricula, standardised mandatory testing, and opportunities post compulsory education.

Phil also discussed KWHL charts and PSQ5R (or PSQ3R), before moving on to Individual Language Plans (ILPs), Individual Education Plans (IEPs), or Passports – the terminology varies between schools. Within an EAL context, these record learners’ mainstream subject progress, their EAL (and SEND) needs, their linguistic progress, as well as strategies and targets to meet those needs and aid further linguistic progress. The most successful examples I have seen of their implementation has been when teachers and students have created and maintained them collaboratively, with learners taking shared control and responsibility.



The day concluded with a short Question & Answer session. Two of the queries were of particular interest:

How can we assess multilingual learners for SEN, particularly when language proficiency may also be a barrier?

Anne Margaret Smith spoke about ELT Well’s Cognitive Assessments for Multilingual Learners (CAML+ and CAML-YL). The testing materials can be purchased and used by teachers, or a full diagnostic assessment, including a comprehensive report, can be arranged upon request.

What can I do to take my knowledge and understanding further?

The free online FutureLearn MOOC “Dyslexia and language teaching“, convened by Judit Kormos of Lancaster University, was discussed. Although I haven’t yet done this course, I have heard only good things about it from NALDIC Executive Committee member Kamil Trzebiatowski, who completed it last year.

There are also many other courses out there for different special educational needs. The IP & SEN SIG was also set up to facilitating the sharing of knowledge, ideas and practice, and to help teachers with networking; the SIG is on Twitter and Facebook.



I feel that it was a very successful first event for the fledgling SIG, and wish it every success as it continues to navigate the IATEFL world. I have only reported a fraction of the day’s contributions, so please see their website for further information. All of the materials from the day’s sessions will be posted there, in due course.


The EAL Journal is published termly by NALDIC, the subject association for EAL. Visit www.naldic.org.uk to become a member.