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ElliiCon2022 Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Ken Beatty

August 5, 2022

This September 15 and 16, 2022, we’ll be hosting ElliiCon, a free, two-day virtual conference to explore simple, effective, and practical strategies that will help you build stronger relationships with your students and engage them in a more meaningful way. This article is part of a series of posts introducing some of the conference speakers.

Dr. Ken Beatty is the author and co-author of more than 140 textbooks and has given more than 500 teacher-training sessions in 35 countries. He'll be joining us at ElliiCon2022 on September 15.

One of Dr. Beatty's first teaching jobs wasn't exactly what you would call ordinary. For 18 months, he taught prisoners who were 12–17 years old.

“Although I knew a lot about Shakespeare, I was fairly clueless about how to help students struggling with nouns and verbs,” said Dr. Beatty.

This experience led him to go back to school.

After receiving a diploma in applied linguistics, he moved to China to teach English as a second language.

“Teaching abroad requires a high degree of empathy—putting yourself in the place of others to understand their contexts before working backwards from their local logic to imagine what can be improved,” explained Dr. Beatty.

Teaching in China was his first year of 18 years abroad. His only regret? He wishes he'd spent more time observing other teachers in the classroom.

“Ours is a solitary profession, and we’re all in danger of getting comfortable with the way we’ve always done things, perhaps even parroting the ways our own teachers did them decades earlier," he said. "Teaching should be a never-ending quest to do things better.”

Dr. Ken Beatty in a classroom with smiling students

Dr. Beatty is pictured here in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The human element of online teaching

Today, Dr. Beatty is a TESOL professor at Anaheim University. He teaches students pursuing their master’s and doctorate degrees. He particularly enjoys—and was surprised by—how intimate teaching online can be.

When he was first invited to join the faculty 12 years ago, he expected it to be less personal than face-to-face classrooms. He has a story to illustrate why he was wrong:

“We all got to know each other well on the discussion forum and one day, John announced that his wife was pregnant. Over the next couple months of classes, we got updates and shared stories and advice. By chance, nine months later, John was enrolled in another of my classes and wrote one week to say he might not attend Friday’s session as his wife was expecting any day now.

Then, Wednesday, he announced the birth of their baby girl, and I didn’t expect to see him in class that week, but Friday evening he opened his laptop in his kitchen. The class and I shared our congratulations. And then I asked, 'Is the baby home yet?'

'Let me get her!'

And suddenly, yawning on screen, we saw a three-day-old baby.

It was a moment like a thousand others that one wouldn’t expect in a traditional graduate seminar. I get to know the students and the students all get to know each other much more than if we were in some brick building. Being online can open us to others’ lives.”

Technology is a great way to empower your language learners

Dr. Beatty holds a PhD in computer-assisted language learning and has written a few books on the topic as well. He recalls a time when he was a student and one of his teachers used technology in class.

Dr. Ken Beatty holding a big stack of books

Dr. Beatty is pictured here with some of his published books.

“When I was in grade two, my teacher, Mrs. Babcock, asked, 'Now, which student would like to operate the film strip projector?' Hand in the air, I remember straining every muscle in hopes I would be chosen," said Dr. Beatty. "It was ridiculously simple, just turning the knob, but to my seven-year-old self, it seemed I was operating a spaceship."

“What was the point?” he asked himself, reflecting back on that day.

His teacher, he explained, used the task as a way to both reward good behavior and to give students a small sense of pride and empowerment.

His advice for teachers who want to use technology in the classroom?

Don’t. Instead, get your students involved.

“Our students tend to be digital natives and are better aware of how new technologies work," said Dr. Beatty. "Need Quizlet quizzes? Let each student create one. Need to explain new conferencing software to the class? Let a few students teach the rest. They’ll do so in ways they best understand and will better connect as friends. Everyone benefits.”

"To teach is to learn twice."

—Joseph Joubert, French writer

Learning English outside the classroom is just as important

Dr. Beatty believes that learning needs to happen outside of class time too since there never seems to be enough time to learn a language within the classroom.

A teacher he met in Shanghai gave each of her students wall space and told them to decorate it with English. Dr. Beatty said the students were confused about what to do but soon started putting up items they found outside the classroom, including menus, comics, maps, advertisements, and their own English annotations of pictures of things like soccer games.

“It became a kind of subversive competitive treasure hunt," Dr. Beatty said. "It was subversive because the students didn’t understand that by focusing on finding and discussing English materials, they were learning English. Best of all, the teacher only had to start the ball rolling. Once in motion, students did all the work and chattered about each new contribution.”

Advocate for your student's language learning needs 

Dr. Beatty also believes that teachers should pay attention to politics in education.

“As teachers, we are the ones who best understand our students’ needs. Not parents. Not administrators. Not elected officials," he said. "Every teacher needs to be involved in the decisions being made about what to teach and how to teach.”

If you're looking to get involved in politics, Dr. Beatty suggests to start by joining your local or national language association. Teachers could share their ideas about education at staff meetings, with friends and family, in blog posts, and in letters to the editor. 

From there, Dr. Beatty encourages teachers to identify the issues that matter on a personal level and find other teachers who agree.

"Think about what you can do together," he said. "Are the needs of students not being met? Are teacher working conditions making it impossible to give students the attention they deserve? Are education budgets being slashed? Shout!”

Dr. Ken Beatty giving a speech

Dr. Beatty is pictured here in Liverpool, England.

Learn about assessment with Dr. Beatty at ElliiCon2022

On September 15, Dr. Beatty will be joining us at ElliiCon2022 to talk about assessment.

Have you had this experience? You spend hours correcting students’ errors on their assignments only to see them glance at the final mark and crumple the paper into a ball. Students too often see assessments like court verdicts, not learning opportunities.

The title of Dr. Beatty's talk is "Assessment: Agile, Simple, Effective." He'll kick off the session by asking why teachers assess students and then explore the key principles that apply to students of all ages and levels. 

Here are the three key principles he will cover:

  • Agile is about responding to students’ needs.
  • Simple is about saving ourselves time.
  • Effective is about ensuring that students learn from their assessments.

Join us at ElliiCon2022!

Want to attend Dr. Beatty's presentation? Register for ElliiCon2022 (it's free!).

To learn more about Dr. Beatty, visit his website.

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Comments (2)

Jen Artan(Author)

I absolutely agree with the comment that "teaching is learning twice". Over the pandemic, language students with some tech-know-how have been instrumental in becoming peer advocates in the virtual classroom. Sometimes it has been necessary for the tech knowledge transfer to be in the student's L1, but sometimes, the students develop their English incidentally while explaining the steps to their classmates on how to use Zoom features, or Google Classroom.

I've attended Dr. Beatty's presentations in the past, and am excited to hear what he's been up to. I think there will be a lot of teachers wondering how to effectively assess their students in a virtual classroom. I know that teachers who remain fixed in their ideas of assessment are often concerned with reliability and validity of online assessment. Curious to know what Dr. Beatty thinks, and how he can make this process simpler, and more agile.

Reply to Comment

Melissa B.(Author)

Thanks for your comment, Jen! I'm looking forward to Dr. Beatty's presentation as well!

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