“You need to be reminded about those small things that make differences”: Classroom interaction and language teaching

I was invited to write a guest blog for Karlstad University, Centre for Language and Literature Education.

I wrote about the importance of classroom interaction in language teaching, arguing for a focus on classroom interaction in initial teacher education and continuous professional development.

The full text is available at https://sola.kau.se/cslblog/2023/05/31/you-need-to-be-reminded-about-those-small-things-that-make-differences-classroom-interaction-and-language-teaching/

I would like to thank Rickard Nilsson and Andrea Schalley for this opportunity and their constructive feedback on an earlier version of the text.

Call for chapters: Conversation Analysis as a Change Agent in Language Teacher Education

We are soliciting manuscripts for an edited volume on conversation analysis as a change agent in language teacher education. Over the last decade, conversation analytic (CA) findings from classroom discourse studies have started feeding into language teacher education contexts, yielding a number of CA-based teacher training frameworks such as SETT (Walsh 2013), IMDAT (Sert, 2019) and FAB (Waring & Creider, 2021). We have now reached a tipping point of grappling with or groping for the material impact of CA in the actual language classrooms around the world. In particular, we are interested in studies that document practice-based changes (e.g., change in teacher practices in the classroom and in reflective practices) in which CA plays a role. We realize that such CA-informed “interventions” can come in many shapes and forms and welcome a multitude of endeavors and innovations.

Should you be interested in participating in such a project, please send us a 300-word abstract by December 5, 2022 that describes (1) the context of the study, (2) the specific role CA plays as a change agent, and (3) the types of changes (to be) documented. Decisions for possible inclusion in the volume will be sent out by December 15, 2022, with submissions of first drafts due by July 1, 2023.

Please use this link to submit your abstract: https://forms.gle/nyKgsxJSqQDrzRo26 

Many thanks for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Olcay Sert and Hansun Waring

How do teachers handle errors in mathematics classrooms?

Mälardalen INteraction & Didactics (MIND) Research Group

How teachers handle errors of students in classrooms has been a topic of interest for researchers across disciplines. Mathematics is no exception to this. In this guest blog post, researchers Odd Tore Kaufmann (Østfold University College, Norway), Maria Larsson (MIND & M-TERM Research groups, Mälardalen University, Sweden) and Andreas Ryve (M-TERM Research group, Mälardalen University, Sweden) share their research findings on mathematics teachers’ error handling practices across different lesson phases, drawing on their analysis of lessons from several Swedish municipality schools. The full text of the research article is available open access, and can be downloaded using this link. Please scroll down for a short, accessible summary.


Many studies have been conducted regarding teachers’ error-handling practices and how errors can be treated as opportunities for learning. Most of these studies have been done in the context of whole-class discussions. Therefore, we wanted to investigate teachers’…

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Some reflections on the ECER 2022: from Mälardalen to Yerevan

I am one of those who think that one needs to balance “big” and more focused “small” conferences during a year: you can dig in deep in more subject/methodology/field specific small conferences, and map the broader field in a big one. For me, the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2022 in Yerevan was a big one: the whole field of education! Even language education conferences or big applied linguistics conferences (e.g. AAAL) are massive, but what was I doing in Yerevan? I will start from the beginning of the story.

On the 21st of December, 2021, we decided to have a conference abstract writing workshop under Elin Sundström Sjödin‘s leadership, organised by SOLD (Language and Literature) research environment. After a successful workshop and rounds of peer-feedback, all of those who submitted an abstract (1300 words!) got accepted: Christa Roux Sparreskog, Simon Sjölund, Elin Sundström Sjödin, Annaliina Gynne, Maria Larsson, and Olcay Sert. The process of being part of the workshop and engaging in peer-feedback was a great experience for all of us. We are a mixture of experienced and novice academics, and we represent diverse departments, subjects, and fields: Mathematics education, Swedish, English, Swedish as a second language, special education, critical literacy, and what not. The question after we had learned that we got accepted was: “Are we going to Yerevan?”. Yes, we did go to Yerevan, and we are very happy about it.

We represented Mälardalen University successfully, in my humble opinion. There was great interest in our talks, and we had the opportunity to attend many good presentations. Were they all mind blowing? No. If you are used to small but very focused, methodologically strong conferences, you may get disappointed in massive conferences sometimes. It cannot all be excellent. Nevertheless, it was great to experience the wide range of topics in our mother field, education. We presented research on (1) mother tongue teachers and their multilingual students in need of special education support (Christa), (2) a collaborative school development and research partnership (Simon), (3) students’ critical and creative exploration of their positions in society (Elin), and (4) digitally-enhanced reflections and how they contribute to the development of classroom interaction practices over time (Annaliina, Maria, and Olcay – representing the MIND Research Group). Our little hub is diverse, but I fell in love with this diversity. I have to confess that I am not a big fan of going to conferences with gangs as it may limit the network you can develop sometimes. But no, this was excellent. We were becoming THE network with this conference, and we could all still do our individual gigs.

Isn’t this what Europe is supposed to be about? Coming together, respecting and appreciating diversity, becoming all different but all the same? It was also a great idea that ECER was organized in beautiful Yerevan, in line with the European spirit to go beyond conventional borders of Europe, to support one another, to learn from each other. We were very happy with the fact that the event took place in Yerevan. We enjoyed every moment in Yerevan during ECER; from academic, professional, cultural, and very personal perspectives. Who would not want to be there? Well, apparently, the publishers did not. I was very disappointed when I noticed that almost none of the big publishers were represented in Yerevan. Routledge, Elsevier, CUP and OUP (Please don’t blame the Brexit), Wiley, SAGE. Where were they? During a time when education all over the world was hit badly; during these days when we need dialogue, collaboration, support of all kind more than any other day in recent history. Where were they? This is why I want to congratulate Verlag Barbara Budrich, Brill, Waxmann, and Bloomsbury academic: you stole hearts. And we should not forget MAXQDA, which had a good level of representation too.

ECER went beyond Europe’s political borders. And we, as representatives of relatively smaller subjects within educational sciences and language sciences, also went beyond our borders and spent time in a safe zone. We came back home, to Västerås, with new insights, cultural understandings, academic inspiration, and more. We also became a stronger group, and we know that we will be working together for years. Pomegranates became the symbol of our group during this conference trip, and like pomegranates, we will be one but many, and many but one.

On “Armchair Teacher Education”: Some observations and humble suggestions

Teaching is an embodied practice. You get your hands dirty with chalk and board markers, or by collaboratively annotating a document with your students in a Zoom room. You go around in the classroom in-between desks, receive questions, respond to students, laugh out loud together with your learners. For your own professional development, you think about these experiences and write (about) them, or speak to a colleague, to a friend, or to someone you see as a mentor or supervisor. We know that teaching is a highly embodied craft and profession, but how come one think that teacher education can be performed without spending time in classrooms (online or in person)? Who thinks that one can sit in a university office, produce only theoretical work without spending time in schools with teachers and pupils, and write articles on what teachers do and say? Armchair teacher educators* do.

Armchair teacher education is a delusional act of affiliating oneself as a teacher educator while sitting in an office and producing only theoretical work. Armchair teacher educators write about what teachers do, without observing, exploring, and taking part in the performance and craft of teaching and learning in schools or informal learning environments. Armchair teacher education is a product of failed policies in various countries, in which the gap between schools and universities has widened to the extent that the teacher educators rarely see or talk to teachers. Some armchair teacher educators do not perform any kind of teaching even at their universities. Armchair teacher education thus fails to address the needs of pre-service teacher education and student-teachers. The damage to student-teachers gets worse in countries where practicum is not integrated well into teacher education curricula. The damage to student-teachers may sometimes be irreversible.

Those who are involved in both research and teacher education have at some point been armchair teacher educators, at least once, in their professional lives. In fact, no matter how much time we spend on NOT being an armchair teacher educator, we sometimes step out of our practice-oriented teacher educator zone. We then call ourselves researchers and academics, may engage with our teacher educator selves in a very limited way, and may do things that armchair teacher educators do. Yet, we can always stop being an armchair teacher educator and get our hands dirty through close collaboration with student-teachers, teachers, and mentors whenever our time allows. It is actually our duty as academics who claim to be teacher educators. However, it is more difficult to do this in teacher education contexts where practicum is not equally spread to the whole initial teacher education curriculum and where mentor teachers are not properly integrated in the process of initial teacher education. The gap needs to be closed to reach global goals in education.

I can speak about the teacher education curriculum and practice in two of the countries (out of 4) I lived in, where I was actively involved in teacher education. In one of these contexts, I observed that:

– student-teachers spend a lot of time in practice schools, under the mentorship of one or more experienced teachers.

– the practicum time is not limited to the “final year” in undergraduate studies. It is distributed in the curriculum from year 1 to the final year.

– subject studies, general didactics, and practicum time are (relatively) balanced in the curriculum.

– practice is not limited to practicum courses. Each course may include a “field” study in which the student-teacher visits the school to do some kind of field work. “Purely” theoretical courses are not encouraged.

– reflective practice is at the heart of teacher development.

– there is a(n) (relatively) independent unit at universities that administers the practicum and coordinates the links between the schools and the university supervisors in different subjects

– university supervisors make supportive visits, which involve post observation conferences

– post observation conferences are triadic and involve the student-teacher, school-based mentor, and the university teacher.

– eliciting reflection is prioritized over power-led advice-giving

– research by teacher educators involve qualitative and ethnographic investigations that provide insights from schools

– student teachers write independent degree projects that draw on school-based problems that they observe. This practice-driven research paper (around 10.000 words) is supervised by one academic with (relatively) relevant experience.

In the other teacher education context:

– practicum takes place only in the final year of the undergraduate degree

– courses are heavy in theory, sometimes delivered by academics who have little or no experience, or practice-based research interest, in school-based teaching

– the number of student-teachers assigned to an academic is not manageable

– there are no structured guidelines on how post-observation conferences will be carried out

– many academics assume the main teacher educator role, with little space for a mentor

– there are, in my knowledge, little or no formal procedures or training to become a mentor

– most research related to teacher education is quantitative and survey-based. This research mostly investigates university students and university teaching, and reflects little insights from pupils and teachers in schools

In one of these two contexts, there were many more armchair teacher educators. Armchair teacher education, in my humble opinion, is not only about the actions of academics involved in teacher education. It is also an outcome of:

– problems in national teacher education curricula,

– lack of standards and a sound quality assurance,

– limited research-base in education and policy-based decision making,

– unstructured or lack of internal and external evaluation, and

– an uneven distribution of power between universities and schools in practice.

Each country has its own political and social dynamics that may lead to armchair teacher education. It is the responsibility of those who hold the power to alter the imbalance. Decision makers and academics who are involved in teacher education, in my humble opinion, may consider the following suggestions to facilitate change and limit armchair teacher education:

–  increase guided practice time for student teachers throughout the curricula and create practice-based research initiatives for school-mentor / university-based teacher educator collaboration

– identify and support (the training of) emerging mentors and involve university-based teacher educators to the process

– create initiatives to support classroom-based research and encourage classroom interaction research that shows what actually happens in teaching and learning environments

– create sustainable university-school collaborations that mutually address the needs of the schools as well as teacher education programmes at universities

– support research that describes and explores teaching and learning practices, instead of supporting just those that “claim” innovation

– consider at least some of the items I listed in example 1 (the first country) to see which ones could be relevant to your context and are feasible in long term

I am aware that the armchair teacher educator is an individual, so blame me for not just talking about that individual but for providing yet another list of policy recommendations. However, I do think that the individual armchair teacher educator is, mostly, an outcome of the armchair teacher education in some contexts. In my closing paragraph, I do, therefore, want to repeat my call for more practice-based research in teacher education, more involvement of teacher educators in schools and other learning settings, and closer collaborations between student-teachers, mentors, and university teachers. We do also need more research on teacher educator identities, especially focusing on those academics who proudly act as researchers, teachers, and teacher educators in the same body. The simultaneous, changeable, and dynamic interplay of these three roles (researchers, teachers, and teacher educators) carried by the same person is not just an interesting future research topic, but also can be the answer to some of the deep-rooted problems like armchair teacher education.

                                                                                                               Last edited – 24.05.2022

Olcay Sert

  • * I was inspired by the term “armchair linguistics”, which I first encountered during my undergraduate studies. My use of the word armchair does not correspond fully to the original use. For some insights from linguistics, please download this piece from C. J. Fillmore.

Who is the expert? School teachers and university teachers in Swedish teacher education

Teacher education in Sweden and other Nordic countries is highly practice based. Student-teachers spend a significant amount of time in schools during their studies, engaging in teaching and other daily school activities under the supervision of school-based mentors. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the success drives of Northern European countries in education. Schools and school teachers are at least as influential as universities and university teachers during initial teacher education for student-teachers. The better an education system closes the gap between theory and practice in teacher education, the more ready the student-teachers would be in their first years in the profession. The well-deserved value of school teachers in teacher education, especially those who are also mentoring, should of course be celebrated. However, is it possible that the role of school teachers in teacher education has been taken to an extreme in countries like Sweden?

A recent policy in parts of Sweden is that faculties of education should hire practicing teachers to teach university courses. Faculties of education have also been advised to hire a specific number of “currently practicing” teachers to teach at university level. Although it is only natural to expect that teacher educators at universities should have previous teaching experience in schools, it should not be taken for granted that being a school teacher is enough to secure a teacher educator role at universities, due to, at least, two reasons. First, people who teach at universities should always have an eye on research, even when they are on full-time teaching contracts. A “researcher training” past (e.g. a second or third cycle degree) and motivation to carry out research should be expected from teacher educators working at universities. When it comes to what is known as subject-didactics (e.g. TESOL), it is important that a teacher educator has a broad knowledge of the field and has research & subject expertise. Second, primary or secondary school teachers cannot be expected to transfer their knowledge of teaching immediately to teaching at universities, in the same way as a university-based teacher educator/teacher cannot be expected to teach in a primary or secondary school without training.

After the “practice” turn in teacher education, the discourse in teacher education circles has devalued, in my opinion, the expertise and knowledge-base of university teachers with PhDs, who also function as teacher educators. While trying to close the theory-research gap and enable a healthy practice-based teacher education, we would not want to risk loosing the scientific base in teacher education. We need research-practice partnerships more than ever. The solution, I argue, requires both university teachers (with PhDs) and school teachers (who start working at teacher education departments) to take mutually beneficial steps towards professional development for teaching and research. The school teachers who start working at universities should be encouraged (and financially supported) to become researcher-practitioners while also going through higher education pedagogy training. University teachers with PhDs who are involved in teacher education (and who, preferably, are former school teachers), on the other hand, should be encouraged and financially supported to spend more time in schools in partnership with teachers and student-teachers, increasingly developing more ties with school cultures. Finally, I do not think that theory and practice are two separate entities – they are and they should be intertwined, constantly being informed from each other, contributing to the never-ending professional development of student-teachers, teachers, mentors, teacher educators, researchers, and those individuals who are at the intersection of some of these roles at the same time.

Olcay Sert
Last edited: 16 March, 2022

Blurring faces in pictures: GIMP

Many classroom interaction researchers struggle with blurring their participants’ faces in the images that will be used for publications and presentations.

I am sure there are thousands of easier ways, but I use GIMP, a free image editing software that works both on MAC and Windows. I created a gif explaining the process. I hope it helps.

Corrective feedback: an angel or an angle?

Do you remember the first time a teacher corrected something you said in a classroom? I do. I was 12. It was a Mathematics lesson in Gemlik (Bursa, Turkey) that was being taught in English. The teacher had asked a question. I do not remember, though, what it was exactly about. I raised my hand, stood up, and the teacher walked towards me. I cannot recall the whole answer I gave, but my response included the word “angle” /ˈæŋgl/, which I mispronounced as “angel” /eɪnʤəl/. I remember her smiling kindly and moving her hands and arms as if she had wings of an angel. She said something like “I am not an angel”, as far as I remember. There were no hard feelings. No shame for being corrected publicly, or at least this is how I remember this scene. I now know (I guess) the difference between the pronunciation of these two words.

Photo credit for the angel: Defne Sert, 2021

We can discuss the how, when, why, and what of corrective feedback for hours based on research findings. But this is not my intention in this post. I have a simple question: what is your first memory of receiving (oral/visual) corrective feedback in a classroom? Do you remember how you felt? How do you feel about it now?