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Interview with Dr. Thomas Farrell
Dr. Farrell is the featured speaker at the KOTESOL Reflective Practice SIG’s “Day of Reflection 2017” Workshops, being held on September 30 at Sookmyung Women’s University. Recently we were able to interview him on his life and work.
Question: Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, your connections to Korea, and why you are so generous with your time to Korea TESOL?
Dr. Farrell: I arrived in Seoul, Korea, in May 1979 to teach English. I just qualified as a teacher in Ireland in 1978, and after teaching one year there, I yearned to travel, and so I decided to travel across Europe, into Asia. I loved the place on arrival and stayed in Seoul for 18 years, and got married and had two daughters there. At that time, it was not so usual for a “foreigner,” as I was called, to marry a local so that was “exciting.” I started teaching in Yonsei University Foreign Language Institute immediately, and in 1980, I believe, I was sitting in the teacher’s room when four other teachers (including Dwight Strawn and Barbara Mintz) informed me that I was a founding member of Korea TESOL [then known as AETK] – yes, there was a Korea TESOL long before some in the current organization realize! From that time on, I have been in the background with Korea TESOL (I became the first editor of the Korea TESOL Journal, so I guess I moved a bit forward) and have always taken interest to this current day. I have discovered over the years that Korea TESOL has been very lucky to have had some really great people looking after its interests (rather than their own as is the case with many teacher organizations), people such as Dwight and Barbara from the early years as well as Carl Dusthimer, Rob Dickey, and Dave Shaffer. I have always kept interest with ELT developments in Korea since those early years and have always tried to give back to Korea because I spent my formative teaching years in EFL and Language Teacher Education in Korea. In fact, I started my first teacher reflection group in the early 1980s in Korea.
Q: How did you get involved in Reflective Practice in ELT?
As I mentioned, I really began reflecting while teaching in Korea in the early 1980s as I had reached a plateau of sorts in my professional development. I had been interested in how teachers see their world of practice from their point of view since I qualified as a teacher in Ireland in 1978 but was not sure how to go about it until I began readings in a new but complex concept called reflective practice. My readings led me onto a PhD in the early 1990s when not many in TESOL had heard about this concept. I did my dissertation on a teacher reflection group (what a wonderful group of teachers from Korea and Australia in the group) while in Korea, and it changed my professional life, really. Since I left Korea nearly 20 years ago, I have continued with this research.
Q: What do you think Reflective Practice is best at doing for us as language teachers?
When teachers engage in reflective practice, they systematically examine their practice in light of its impact on their students’ learning and the use the evidence they obtain from this examination to make informed decisions about their teaching. In such a manner, they can become what I now call an Integrated Teacher because they have knowledge of who they are (their philosophy), why they do what they do (their principles), what they want to do (their theory), how they do it (their practice), and what it all means to them within their community (beyond practice).
Q: What advice would you give to teachers just starting out with Reflective Practice?
Beginning reflection can be a daunting task because it is similar to looking in the mirror and wondering what do I look at: my hair, eyebrows, clothes, etc., etc. Also you are seeing “you,” and some may not like what they see. So I would start gently by looking at the self and asking who you are as a person and what identity you want to have as a teacher. Then move onto asking what your assumptions, beliefs, and conceptions are about teaching and learning English as a second or foreign language and where these come from? Then examine your theory of practice – how and why do you plan the way you do and use the activities you use in lessons. Then examine your actual teaching. This can be done by recording your class and/or asking a colleague to observe particular aspects of your practice, such as your questioning during lessons, or your instructions, or your students’ time on task (this list is endless and best made by each teacher). After this, you can examine how your teaching and the school you teach in reflect all your values (many of which you will have answered in the previous questions) and if you need to change any as a result. Although you have asked all these questions about what seems to be separate items, they are all linked closely together. This, of course, represents my new framework for reflecting on practice for TESOL teachers that has five stages/levels of reflection: Philosophy, Principles, Theory, Practice, and Beyond Practice (see Farrell, 2015, for more).
Q: You have worked with – written a book with – Jack Richards. Can you tell us about that experience and how it came about?
Actually, we have written two books together: the first was Language Teacher Development (Richards & Farrell, 2005) and the other is on teaching practice (Richards & Farrell, 2011). I have known Jack for many years, and especially in the early years in Korea, where he would come to the conferences in his yellow jacket and I would introduce him for Korea TESOL. When I moved to Singapore, he and his partner were based at RELC for six months out of each year (for six years, I think), and we got together to write the first book. Then when I moved to Canada, we wrote the second book. As everyone knows, he is at the top of our field in language teacher education, and so it was a great experience working with him. He is very intensive when writing as I am myself. He has a great knowledge of the field and has made some wonderful contributions to language teacher education to bring the “T” (teacher and teaching) back into focus in TESOL. Without his contributions to the field, along with those of David Nunan and Donald Freeman, I believe that we would still be in a grammar/translation mode. Jack was great to work with, and I learned a lot from that experience in more ways than I could imagine.
Q: You are such a prolific writer in our field – 17 or 18 books at last count. How do you find the time to write with all your other endeavors: university teaching, worldwide conference appearances, writing journal papers, etc.?
Actually, I now have 31 books if counting single-authored, co-authored, edited, and translated – with two more about to appear in the next few weeks and another at the end of the year. My topic is reflective practice, and so I write as my reflection – how do I know what I think until I see what I say!
Q: What are your plans for this short trip to Korea?
Actually, I will be on my way back from China, where I am invited to a language teacher education conference (http://220.127.116.11/2017wy/), and whenever I am near Korea, I always want to return as I love the place. I am always ready and willing to contribute to Korea TESOL when I am around, so I am so grateful you are allowing me to reflect with you during this trip to Seoul.
Q: Do you have any words for Korea TESOL and the Reflective Practice SIG?
When I was in Korea last year at the annual conference, I met the current members of the RP-SIG, and I must say that it is in safe hands as they are all wonderful. I am sure their students are benefitting a lot from their teaching as well. I know that the SIG is benefitting a lot from their selfless work to help teachers be all that they can be. I am also at your service.
Thomas S.C. Farrell is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Brock University, Canada. Professor Farrell’s professional interests include Reflective Practice, and Language Teacher Education. Professor Farrell has published widely and has presented at major conferences worldwide on these topics. A selection of his work can be found on his webpage: www.reflectiveinquiry.ca
Farrell, T. S. C. (2015). Promoting teacher reflection in second language education: A framework for TESOL Professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.
Richards, J. C., & Farrell, T. S. C. (2005). Professional development for language teachers. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C., & Farrell, T. S. C. (2011). Teaching practice: A reflective approach. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
The KOTESOL Reflective Practice SIG wishes to thank Sookmyung Women's University and its Sookmyung TESOL program for venue support for this event.