Mission Statement of "Umbrella" organization:
- unite EFL teachers of Russia in order to coordinate the activities of regional associations,
- enhance professional development,
- create a website with current information and methods,
- establish partnerships with international organizations,
- represent the interests of Russian EFL teachers in Russia and abroad,
- influence state policy in EFL teaching in the Russian Federation.
Pskov - August, 2000 - "ELT: New Perspectives and Challenges"
Samara - January, 2001 - "Umbrella Session"
Rostov-on-Don - August, 2001 - “Regional Collaboration to Foster Global English”
Samara - August, 2002 - "Project Culture Development Seminar and Conference "
St.Petersburg - August, 2003
Nizhniy Novgorod - August, 2004 - "Best Practices in English Language Teaching and American Studies" (combined with Alumni Re-Union)
Yaroslavl - August, 2006 - "Widening the Circle”
Saratov - August, 2007
Ryazan - 2008 - “Building Networks for Change”
Kaliningrad - November, 2009 - "Strategizing and Managing Change in ELT in Russia "
Stavropol - November, 2010 - “Cooperating on New Methods in Learning and Teaching English”
Smolensk - October, 2011 - "Getting an "A" with Autonomy"
"Orlyonok" - October 25- 28, 2012 - "New Times, New Requirements: Improving Students' English Language Proficiency"
ELT Professionals in Russia as Agents of Change
This is the paper that Prof. Marina Kulinich, Umbrella 1 President, (Samara, Russia) presented ar ESSE-10 Conference in Torino Marina Kulinich (Samara, Russia)
ELT Professionals in Russia as Agents of Change
If you look at a well-known chart of concentric circles suggested by Braj Kachru, showing the role of English in the world,you see that Russia belongs to the so-called expanding circle – that is, English is not one of the state languages. Nevertheless, its role and functions in present-day Russia over the past decades have expanded exponentially. A socio-cultural profile of English usage in Russia would show that the language has begun to play a significant role in the daily lives of many Russians.
I shall try giving tentative answers to these questions: Why is English used in Russia? Who are the members of the English-speaking community? With whom do the members of this speech community interact? In what ways is the role of English in Russia expanding? How is English perceived by Russians?
First and foremost, English is being used to perform an interpersonal function. In the business world it is the lingua franca not only with companies and organizations representing English-speaking countries, but with third countries as well. This function is illustrated by the role of English on the job market. A survey of classified advertisement pages in many Russian newspapers illustrates the market value of English. Advertisers in both the “position sought” and “position offered” include English as a job qualification. The most important fields are journalism, hotel and restaurant business, products management, information technologies. Tourism also requires some English. Children have pen (or, to be more exact) Internet pals in other countries.
Secondly, English is being used in Russia to fulfill an instrumental function. In the world of education, English reigns as the predominant foreign language being taught. Its place in the school curriculum stretches all the way from elementary school through university, and English instruction is beginning earlier and earlier. It is made a definite priority in the country’s foreign-language teaching policy; it has no official status, but it is nonetheless the language children are most likely to encounter when they arrive in school, and the one most available and most desirable to adults in further education. Lots of private language schools appear as if from nowhere, many non-state colleges set up linguistic departments, but the main subject taught there is English. English also performs an instrumental function in the world of active written information exchange. Trade and professional journals carry a large number of articles in English.
Last but not least, is the imaginative/innovative function of English, reflected mostly in linguistic processes, such as English borrowings in the Russian language. (Also word-formation, word-meanings, collocations, idiomatic phrases). Media reveal a large number of English words and expressions scattered throughout the spoken and especially written texts. Update, start-up, fundraising, venture, off-shore, to mention but a few.
Consequently, to provide and promote all this, a large army of Russian ELT professionals had to change themselves dramatically and to act as agents of change in the country.
The first step to change ourselves was to set up Samara Regional association of ELT professionals (SELTA) at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary education). For you to have a better grasp of the situation, a few words about Samara. It is a large city (1.2 million people) which for many decades of the Soviet rule had been a so-called “closed/classified city” (because of the huge rocket plant, aircraft plants, etc.) Not a single person from abroad could possibly enter the city. For years we had been teaching our students English or German or French not as a means of communication (they had nobody to communicate with) but, using the German expression, as Das Ding an sich (the thing in itself). Things began to change in the early nineties. SELTA began as entirely grassroots movement – nothing was imposed from above (e.g. from education authorities).
You will agree that the main elements of any teaching-learning process are three-fold: Teacher, Textbook, Student. That is what our association has been working at.
Promoting teachers’ language proficiency and professional development was our primary goal. That was difficult because the majority of them had never had a chance to visit an English-speaking country, to communicate with native speakers, to have access to authentic teaching materials and methodology.
We asked for help The English Language Office of the U.S. Embassy. For many years, the ELO sent English Language Fellows to Samara who taught in the University for a year, actively participated in all the seminars and conferences organized by our association.
We decided to start with developing teachers’ language proficiency, and invited native speakers who were working in Samara at that time to take part in our regular meetings and seminars which were conducted in the English language only. Teachers had a chance to listen and ask questions in English. Later on, thanks to the activities of the Open Society Institute, the British Council and the English Language office of the U.S. Embassy we had a chance to invite professional ELT trainers to participate in our meetings and conferences. These specialists shared innovative ELT methodologies that worked well in their countries, thus empowering us in our teaching practices. These new technologies were shared with the teachers of other languages at schools and universities where the members of our associated worked, thus changing the general approaches to teaching foreign languages at schools. Moreover, best practices were adopted by the teachers of other subjects, and such words as ‘brainstorming’, ‘portfolio’, ‘project work’, etc. became an integral part of the lessons plans. The impact of the ELT teachers on the professional life of the Samara teaching community is difficult to overestimate!
The British Council specialists helped with training the trainers for international Cambridge exams – PET, FCE, CAE. Our EL teachers did not know much (if at all) about the format of the exams, assessment criteria, types of tasks, etc. and could not train their students, though the demand for these exams was growing. BC held Train the Trainer seminar for some members of our association in 1998 and since then we disseminated this seminar all over the Volga Region and further. The impact of it was helping teachers at all levels to get ready for the new format of National School-leaving Exam in English which was modeled after Cambridge exams. Moreover, national school-leaving exams in other subjects borrowed much from the format of the English exam.
The next step forward was to encourage our ELT teachers to learn how to do classroom action research and how to share their experiences with their colleagues. A series of seminars and workshops was done by the members of our association and by the invited guest speakers, and little by little teachers started taking a more active part in our conferences as presenters and contributors to the collection of papers. We started with 10 -15 local speakers at our first conferences and this year we had around 100 presenters at our annual conference and over 70 papers were contributed to the collection of papers. This experience of public speaking and classroom action research has helped our teachers to promote and strengthen public speaking and research skills with their students. Nowadays middle - and late primary school students of Samara take part in annual conferences and share the results of the research they have done in linguistics, cross-cultural communication, history of English-speaking countries, etc. with their peers. Thus, ELT teachers in Samara have made research processes understandable and available to school pupils who otherwise might have had no access to this knowledge.
SELTA has been sharing knowledge with teachers from other places. Inspired by our experience, new associations were started in other regions of Russia. And in 2000 SELTA initiated a new type of virtual ELT association – the ELT Umbrella Association. The aim was to unite, first, the ELT associations of the European part of Russia to be followed by the Siberian Umbrella, by the Far East and Western Umbrellas.
Why Umbrella? Our motto was: “Human mind is like an umbrella – it works only when it is open!”
Regular meetings of the Umbrellas opinion leaders are held every year in different cities of Russia to ensure plans and projects for the upcoming year which are run in close conjunction with those of the English Language Office of the US Embassy. The projects initiated by SELTA opinion leaders were two summer and one autumn ELT schools which were held in Samara. Those schools helped teachers from the Volga region to benchmark best practices and to disseminate the information in their respective cities and towns.
SELTA has been approached by various foreign organizations with a request to nominate candidates for various projects initiated by them. Our active members have participated in quite a few projects which have an impact on the Russian teaching community as a whole. For example, Lidia Koziatinskaya co-authored ‘New Millennium”, a textbook which is widely used in Russian schools, Lubov Anissimova wrote a book on American Studies for Russian university students, Ludmila Kozhevnikova initiated the All-Russia Testing Institute with the goal of teaching school and university teachers how to develop tests. The Institute was of crucial importance to promoting testology in Russia, given that testing is not taught in Russian universities, and in the light of the problems faced by the developers of the school leaving exam and large-scale testing of university students in our country. This institute helped to start a TEA SIG (Testing, Evaluation and Assessment Special Interest Group) within the framework of National Association of Teachers of English (NATE).
Textbooks. Changes in teachers’ proficiency led to gradually changing textbooks. Teachers were given the opportunity to select textbooks themselves. Gradual introduction of authentic textbooks (with audio and video cassettes, workbooks, teacher’s books, etc.) helped to learn more about lifestyle and culture of various countries. The British Council supported the project New Millennium English – a textbook for Russian secondary schools written jointly by English methodologists and Russian practicing school-teachers. Cambridge University Press introduced Cambridge English for Schools together with Russian Companion – a supplement specially adapted for Russian learners taking into account praiseworthy ELT traditions in our country. The Open Society Institute funded developing alternative textbooks in humanities. Local representatives of prominent publishing houses (CUP, Longman, Macmillan, etc.) held training seminars how to use the textbooks for best results.
Students. Changes in their teachers’ professional qualification, alternative textbooks, social and economic changes in the country brought about changes in students. First and foremost, their motivation to acquire English (and other languages, for that matter) grew rapidly due to reasons mentioned earlier. Some of them started taking private lessons, some attend extra-curricular courses which help to prepare for international exams (TOEFL, FCE, BEC, etc.). Secondly, the abstract notions of “learner autonomy” and “competence-based language learning” came to life, brought about by new textbooks and new teaching methods. The focus is gradually shifting from teacher-centered to learner-centered paradigm, making students work on their own, interact with each other, assess themselves.
A few words on changes in the attitude of education authorities. School principals came to realize that in order to get grants, to establish international contacts, to take part in various exchange programs they have to rely heavily on teachers of English. More and more parents require extra lessons of English, special courses, such as Business English, and are ready to pay for it. Thus, EL professionals become a source of income for schools and are respected for it.
By way of summing up:
• held 15 annual regional conferences and 1 international TESOL-Russia conference (1998)
• published 15 books of abstracts and papers of the conferences held
• set up the virtual Umbrella network of professional associations of EL teachers working in 21 towns and cities of Russia
On-going: teacher-training seminars, text-book presentations
Membership: over 300 teachers in Samara and Samara Region working at primary, secondary and tertiary level.
Here is an often repeated motto: Discover the world through English! Via Global English we shall end up understanding each other better, and English teachers and students will play a small part in fostering a more peaceful world. To promote this understanding, I am asking the colleagues present to share their expertise with us, try and find some funding to come as key speakers to our annual TESOL-ELT Samara conferences.
Welcome to Russia! Welcome to Samara!