Phil Wade Interviews: Flora Debora Floris
Flora Debora Floris is a lecturer at the Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia where she teaches general English and language teaching methodology courses. She has published some papers and given talks on the integration of technology in English language teaching, teachers’ professional development and the teaching of English as an International language. She actively manages an online teacher professional development forum called Teacher Voices: http://www.facebook.com/groups/teachervoices/. Flora can be contacted at http://petra.academia.edu/FloraDebora.
1) You teach pre-service teachers, so what skills would you say every teacher needs to develop at the start of their career?
Joining Teacher Preparation Faculty/Department programs is often considered as the first step in becoming real classroom teachers. This is because such programs offer a foundation in theoretical and applied teaching courses such as first and second language acquisition, teaching methodology and approaches, material design, language testing, classroom management and teaching practices or practicums as well as language skills courses.
Interestingly, some studies show that although novice teachers find the knowledge they have received in preparation courses useful, they still find a gap between their expectations of teaching and reality or real teaching. This gap is often called “reality shock” (Farrell, 2008)’ and it is quite challenging for many new teachers. To minimize this ‘reality shock’, teacher preparation programs focus on equipping their pre-service teachers with basic classroom teaching skills and sufficient level of language proficiency. In this case, I think a strong practicum component is needed.
It is not easy to define which teaching skills are essential for new teachers because there are very broad general teaching skills such as adapting textbooks and there are very specific teaching skills such as handling students’ misbehaviour in a particular type of situation. NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) (1982), for example, states 19 essential teaching skills while Hay McBer (2000) mentions 7 essential skills. Based on my experience working with the pre-service teachers at Petra Christian University, I would say that new teachers need at least 5 teaching skills namely: skill of planning and setting the lesson, skill of explaining and illustrating, skill of assessing performance, skill of managing classes, and skill of using simple technology.
Good English proficiency is also essential for new teachers. It does not mean that these teachers should have a native-like proficiency, but at least they should be competent enough to use English to teach English as well as to become an authentic model of successful language learners. In Indonesia, there is no regulation or standard from the government related to what is considered as ‘good’ or ‘sufficient’ English proficiency, but the English Studies Association in Indonesia has proposed the level of B2 CEFR as the minimum standard. At Petra Christian University where I am currently working, the graduation requirement is a score of 500 on the paper-based TOEFL test.
2) You also run a very interesting sounding ‘Current Issues in Language Teaching’ course. What do you teach and how?
Current Issues in Language Teaching is one of the courses offered to our BA students who are taking the English Education Business (EEB) programme; this compulsory course is taken by our final year students who are about to graduate.
This course discusses a range of recent issues in English Language Teaching, particularly in EFL (Indonesian) context. We try to understand the changing realities and the principles behind recent approaches and methods of teaching and learning English in Indonesia. We also explore the plausible implementation of the teaching and learning of a variety of language skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing) and knowledge areas (e.g. grammar, vocabulary).
The course is basically to help our students become more informed teachers. An understanding of approaches and their rationale is essential to define or redefine their beliefs in teaching and learning English. It is also expected that these pre-service teachers will use ideas from this Current Issues in Language Teaching course in their actual or potential teaching situations.
I usually start this course by discussing a set of common beliefs and assumptions about English language teaching and learning in Indonesia either from a student’s perspective or that of a teacher. Opinions gathered at the beginning of the course may change as the students are asked to be critical yet open-minded, while they are exposed to new knowledge and experience throughout our 16 class meetings.
Some of the issues that I brought into the classroom last semester were: (1), extensive reading & listening as a tool to improve one’s English proficiency; (2) the use of web and mobile applications in language classrooms, and (3) myths on teaching, reading, writing, vocabulary and listening in an EFL context. To cover these issues, I used some books, articles and videos including:
Brown, S. (2011). Listening myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Folse, K. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Jacobs, G., & Renandya, W. (2015). Making extensive reading even more student centered. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 102-112.
Marlina, R. & Giri, R.A. (2014). The Pedagogy of English as an International Language: Perspectives from Scholars, Teachers, and Students. New York: Springer.
Muller, T., Herder, S., Adamson, J., & Brown, P.S. (Eds.) (2012). Innovating EFL teaching in Asia. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nunan, D. & Richards, J.C. (2015). Language learning beyond the classroom. New York: Routledge.
At the end of the semester, I usually ask my students to work on digital projects. The good ones are uploaded to our official YouTube channel: http://bit.ly/2gXoIz2 as a token of appreciation. The students are usually excited when their work is uploaded as they can include this in their portfolio.
3) As I understand it, you aim to make your students aware of EIL (English as an International Language) issues and advise them to use English in their teaching. How do you do this?
The majority of our pre-service teachers were unaware of the EIL issues. We, teachers of the English Education Business programme at Petra Christian University, have been trying to incorporate the EIL spirit in some subjects such as in speaking, in which our students are introduced to varieties of English, in language teaching and learning in which they are asked to examine various teaching approaches, or in Material Development in which the students are required to adapt some textbooks to suit their local context. EIL principles are further discussed in the final year through a subject “Teaching English as an International Language”. By introducing the EIL issues as the content of the course or peripherally, it is hoped that pre-service students will develop a favourable attitude towards EIL.
I have actually published 2 articles on our pre-service teachers’ perception on EIL issues and some suggested activities to introduce the EIL issues:
Floris, F.D. 2014. Introducing English as an International Language (EIL) to Pre-Service Teachers in a World English Course. PASAA, 47 (January – June 2014), 215 – 231.
Floris, F.D. 2013. Exploring Beliefs of Pre-Service Teachers toward English as an International Language. ThaiTESOL Journal, 26 (1), 46-75.
These are OA articles published in regional journals.
4) According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Indonesia, where you teach, has a higher English level than France. How do you account for this and what tips do you have for us poor teachers in France?
The latest EF index published was measured through an online test taken by 950,000 adults in 2015 (English First, 2016). The latest 2016 report of EF Index Proficiency states that Indonesia is ranked #32 while France is ranked #29. Though these 2 countries are in 2 different ranks, they fall into the same league, i.e. moderate proficiency.
A plausible cause that can be attributed to the lack of growth of Indonesia’s English proficiency is the national curriculum. In Indonesia, English is not included as an intra-curricular subject taught at the elementary school level. It is a compulsory subject at the (junior high school up to senior high school), but it has been allocated a relatively small portion of school time (once or twice a week, one hour/meeting). Most of the time, during their 6 years of studying at the secondary level, students concentrate on English more as a ‘foreign’ subject, which means that they learn English to pass their exams and often focus more on grammar. A similar situation occurs in many universities in Indonesia that require all of their students to achieve certain English scores to complete their study. In most cases, the high score obtained often means that students know English merely in grammar theory and are not yet fully equipped to use the language to communicate. The current curriculum, thus, needs to be revised to provide students with high opportunity to actually communicate in English.
Another factor that might contribute to Indonesians’ poor performance in English is inadequately qualified English language teachers. It is the teacher who sets the tone for learning activities. However, unfortunately, many teachers in Indonesia are not proficient in English and many teachers pay less attention to communicative activities. The result of TOEIC 2012 examination taken by 75 English teachers of State Vocational High School in Bali, for instance, shows that the total TOEIC score of these teachers was (quite) low (Rusyanto, 2014). Low English proficiency might be the reason why many teachers prefer to use Indonesian in their teaching English process. In addition, teacher-centred instruction is still commonly used in English classes in Indonesia. Less communicative activities and more lectures on grammatical rules, intensive reading, repetition and substitution drills are still very much practiced by many English teachers in Indonesia. Such traditional ways of teaching unfortunately do not seem necessarily to aid proper learning.
Inadequate teaching materials and resources also bring complexity to English classrooms in Indonesia. Some workbooks or textbooks, which many teachers rely on, are so bad that they do not help the users but confuse the teachers and the students more. Good teaching resources in Indonesia are also limited. Good computers, reliable internet connections, good collections of books and posters for example, are mostly available only in big schools in big cities. Many schools in rural or in suburban areas do not have such privileges.
The classroom situation is also another problem in teaching English in Indonesia. The number of learners in a typical classroom in rural or remote areas or in small cities in Indonesia can range from one to more than thirty students and these students are often not on the same level of proficiency. Over-crowded, mixed ability English classes make it difficult for teachers to carry out meaningful activities.
Having low or no motivation to learn English is also a problem in Indonesia. English is a mandatory subject in highschools in Indonesia; but it does not guarantee that the students in general are motivated to study the language. Often they learn English to pass their school exam, not because they feel the need to use the language to communicate. English is often viewed as irrelevant to their lives, thus many students do not care for the subject and this somehow creates an obstacle for the teaching and learning process itself.
Although Indonesia’s 2016 index score is ranked #32 out of 72 countries, in general the country’s overall EF index has been gradually improving. In 2011, the country was placed in a very low proficiency band. In 2012, it gradually reached the level of low and in 2013-2016 it reached moderate proficiency. It seems that there is some effort among Indonesians to improve their English levels and this may be through internet connection, exposure to English and an interest in learning English. The test results however might not represent the ability of the general population, as the EF survey is not a statistically controlled study and it might not accurately represent demographic sample.
5) You are a strong supporter of professional development. Should employers support this or is it up to us as teachers to take responsibility?
As William (2011, p. 43) states, “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better”, thus, professional development should be a continuous and lifelong process. Although, at its core, it is the personal responsibility of teachers to develop their professional qualities and to improve their knowledge, skills and practice, I think teachers’ ongoing professional development is not a matter of concern for teachers alone. It should be a joint responsibility between school/university and teacher, a combination of bottom-up initiative and top-down support. School/university administrators need to enhance teachers’ skills and knowledge necessitated by curricular reforms, textbook changes, and methodological shifts, while teachers need to continuously develop their professionalism to ensure that they are competent and to prepare themselves to be the best teachers possible.
School or university leaders’ support for their teachers’ professional development might come in various forms, for example, incorporating a professional development plan within the overall institution strategy, inviting their teachers to join various training courses and conferences as well as eliminating excessive paper-work and other administrative duties are some things that administrators might do to provide opportunities for teachers to enhance their professionalism. Promoting an organizational professional culture is also an essential task that school/university managers have to carry out. This can be done, for example by setting up academic discussion groups or professional learning communities and observing each other’s’ classrooms or teaching practices.
Teachers have a responsibility to devote some of their time to professional development throughout their teaching career. Nowadays there are many venues available for shaping one’s professional development such as face-to-face interactions with colleagues, virtual group discussions, offline and online seminars /workshops/ lectures/courses, or formal academic studies. These channels keep teachers up-to-date with new classroom research or emerging technology tools, recent academic resources and it enables them to exchange teaching ideas and learn from each other.
6) You manage the informative Teacher Voices group on FB. How would you describe the professional etiquette for new teacher members of groups like yours?
Teacher Voices (http://www.facebook.com/groups/teachervoices/) is an online Facebook forum for language teachers, textbook writers, curriculum specialists, and researchers in English language teaching or applied linguistics. It was established in 2011 and it now has approximately 8,700 members from 40 countries. The lead administrator is Dr. Willy A. Renandya, a senior language teacher educator of the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. I am helping him to maintain the group by checking membership requests, posting information on teaching resources/conferences/publications and encouraging members to take an active part in the discussions. I was awarded the Lawrence Jun Zhang Book Award at the 61st TEFLIN International Conference 2014 in recognition of my contribution to Teacher Voices and teacher professional development in general (note: TEFLIN stands for The association of Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia. It is a non-profit professional national organization which is formally acknowledged by the Indonesian government and has a close relationship with a number of international organizations such as TESOL International, IATEFL, MELTA Malaysia, and Thai-TESOL Thailand).
The working language of Teacher Voices is formal English as the group members come from many different countries. Also, as the online group is meant to be a forum for professional discussion on social media, the members are expected to refrain from using chatty informal language in their interactions.
Many interesting discussions take place in Teacher Voices; most of them are initiated by the lead administrator, Dr. Willy A. Renandya. None of the discussions involve sharing copyrighted materials or business-oriented-promotions because we are against illegal downloads and we want to keep this free forum professional.
It contains a plethora of information: free teaching resources, open-access articles, conference invitations, etc. The forum also opens up opportunities to build professional networks and exchange ideas. Teacher Voices is like an online class for me. It has contributed a lot to my professional development. I have learned a lot from the forum, met other scholars and built up my professional network.
For more information about this FB group, kindly read the review on Teacher Voices written by one of our members:
Siregar, F. L. (2014). Teacher Voices: A Virtual Forum for ELT Professionals. ELT World Online, 6, 1-6.
7) You have published numerous articles in journals. What are your thoughts on the alleged ‘predatory journals’?
I am glad that you asked me this question, though I have not published a lot. A study made in 2015 showed that there were 10,000 predatory journals churning out over 400,000 articles per year and netting the predators over US$74 million (Shen and Björk 2015). It seems that fake journal business is booming; and this is astonishing and concerning.
There are more and more teachers, graduate students, and researchers who are required to publish their works in journals. Some or many of them are novices or inexperienced authors who have just started their publishing journey. They probably do not know the suitable outlets for publication, they experience multiple rejections and have to wait for several months to get their papers published (or not published). Having our work published in a reputable journal is already (quite) challenging; and for many novice authors, this process or journey might be a bit (or too) frustrating.
It seems to me that predatory publishers target inexperienced authors. Bogus publishers present obscure editorial or review board members, state fallacious office / publishing addresses, and invent bogus impact factors for their predatory journals. Their journals offer fast (or no) peer-reviews and publish manuscripts within days for some publication fees. Though it seems that predatory journals provide an antidote to the unpredictability and the ‘bumpy road’ one has to take to get his/her paper published, such journals actually exist only to make money from publishing as many papers as possible.
It is then, in my opinion, not wise to publish papers in journals that accept every article and try to make money without any scholarship involved. Note also that academic reputation is built mostly on what is published and where it is published, not how much is published (Clark and Thompson, 2012). In addition, I think it is better not to cite any articles published in questionable journals because without the rigid process of reviewing and editing, the published papers might misinform readers. To find out more about why we should not publish papers in scam journals and to recognize the characteristics of bogus journals, I would like to refer readers to the following OA article:
Renandya, W. A. (2014). What are bogus journals and why we should avoid them. Beyond Words, 2 (2), 1-18.
To recognize and combat predatory journals, I think there should be more open discussions and mentorships about publication. Academic leaders, senior colleagues and those who have published their works in credible journals should be the role-models and share more about their own publishing journey. They should also raise awareness of the practices of predatory journals and the risks of publishing (or citing) papers in them.
The school’s or university’s policy should also play a vital part in not promoting predatory publishers. School/university leaders are encouraged to issue policies such as:
Any work published in scam journals will not be acknowledged for any promotion, assessment, tenure, etc.
No funds are provided for publishing in bogus journals.
References used in all assignments, papers, manuscripts etc., must be taken only from reputable journals.
Clear policy that stands against the scam publishers will not provide legitimacy to predators and will encourage authors to publish in credible journals only.
Clark, A. M. and Thompson, D. R. (2012), Making good choices about publishing in the journal jungle. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 68 (11), 2373–2375.
English First. (2016). About EPI sixth edition. Retrieved 1 December 2016 from http://www.ef.com/epi/about-epi/.
Farrell, T. S. C. (2012) Novice-service language teacher development: Bridging the gap between preservice and inservice education and development”, TESOL Quarterly, 46 (3), 435 – 449.
Hay McBer (2000) Research into teacher effectiveness: A model of teacher effectiveness (Research Report RR216). London: DfEE
NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) (1982) 4th All India education survey. New Delhi: National Council for Educational Research and Training.
Rusyanto (2014) Language proficiency of English teachers of vocational high school in Bali. Humanis, 6 (3), 1-7.
Shen, C., & Björk, B. C. (2015). ‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics. BMC medicine, 13(1), 1.
Siregar, F. L. (2014). Teacher Voices: A Virtual Forum for ELT Professionals. ELT World Online, 6, 1-6.
Williams, D. (2011). “Embedded Formative Assessment.” Solution Tree (May), 43-45.