Conference: Integrated Learning and Assessment in the new National Curriculum for General Education

I had the pleasure of attending a conference on Integrated Learning and Assessment last week in Hue (Vietnam), hosted by Cambridge Assessment. Here’s a bit about the conference, and some take home points.

Why was I there?

I’ve been working on a big assessment project in the region. Cambridge invited me to deliver a session and a workshop based on the project.

Wait, what? You? Presenting?!

Yeah, I know, right? Truth is (and Cambridge don’t know this), I’d been preparing to talk at the conference for months. Friends have been helping me overcome my fear of public speaking, colleagues have been really supportive, I’ve been practicing tons…

I survived. I won’t be making a habit of conference speaking, but it was a good learning experience for me. The feedback from audience was fairly positive I guess, so that’s something.

Was it as bad as I expected? Well, no actually. Reason being, I was presenting about a project I’ve been super invested in. It’s related to embedding formative assessment practices in classrooms across the region. I’ve been really hands-on in creating the resources, I’m proud of what me and my awesome colleague (Alan Pulverness – aka ‘Mr TKT’) have produced with guidance from Cambridge, MOET, etc, and I hope it will have a big impact on teaching and learning in the region.

So, believing in the project and being able to talk directly to teachers, trainers and so on who will be implementing our resources was, well it was amazing actually.

Me presenting!

Anyway, there were more interesting things at the conference than my rambles…

Regional voices

The audience was made up of teachers, trainers, heads of districts, ministry reps, and important people working on the National Foreign Language Project. There was a great session at the end of the conference where anyone could get up and share their experiences of teaching in their region, talk about some of the challenges faced, and suggest changes. I won’t go into too many specifics, but it was fascinating to hear about some peoples’ experiences. Comments focused on:

  • Intensive English programmes in certain regions
  • Collaborations with language schools in certain regions
  • Language school inspections
  • The value of certain teaching resources in the region as a whole
  • Integrated programmes (teaching subjects through English)

I learnt more about teaching and learning in Vietnam is one hour than I did during my time there at the British Council. Fascinating, and some really honest takes from participants. I could have listened to a whole day of that easily.


There was a great talk by Melvyn Lim, Cambridge Country Manager for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. He spoke about integrated programmes in schools and mapping between Vietnamese general education and Cambridge curricula. As an international school teacher, I found this REALLY interesting. Lim mentioned how Cambridge had been trialing different learning ‘pathways’ at an international school in the region. For example:

  • An EFL pathway, focusing on developing English skills to B1 level but without subject integration
  • An ESL pathway, with the main subject input for English being IGCSE ESL (B2), and selected (core) subject integration
  • A first language English pathway (full EMI)

Cambridge have the range of resources to cover these pathways – I got a good look at some of them and I was impressed – especially by some of their subject integration resources at Key Stage 3 (or ‘lower secondary’).

It was interesting to hear about a school that had tried to follow a programme like this. I had some questions from a practical perspective –

  • How and when can learners transition between pathways?
  • How can learners be supported in developing academic language to help them move to the subject integrated programme? Would they need a ‘crash course’ type programme?
  • If the IGCSE ESL is the main English subject input learners receive, how can we guarantee they are developing skills to help access learning in other subjects? E.g. the writing focus for the IG is quite narrow, whereas the demands of writing in disciplines such as History/Geog are quite different – will IG English support learners enough?

That said, I also wonder whether Cambridge have decided to meet market needs here with the EFL pathway – helping learners achieve a basis or ‘threshold’ level before moving to a subject integrated programme.

As an IGCSE ESL specialist, it also made me wonder: if a school followed this pathway, how could we do more to ensure that ESL input differs from EFL? If I were writing a test spec for ESL, I’d definitely be shaping the content more around subject-specific vocab rather than going for general interest topics. The course should be helping learners bridge to a core curriculum. I’d love to work in a school where that middle ESL pathway plays out, and see what EAL language support is being provided around the ESL course. I know there’s a new EAL course coming out – I wonder what will be on the syllabus!

Fascinating stuff from Melvyn and food for thought. Well, for me at least!

An action-oriented approach

Allen Davenport, a Cambridge consultant is SE Asia, did a presentation on ‘an action-oriented approach’. It was one of the highlights of the conference for me – such a great presenter, very interesting content, backed up with a great discussion in the bar afterwards so I could grill him about the content!

In a nutshell, Allen introduced the work of Dr Enrica Piccardo, and summarized her take on moving from a communicative approach to an action-oriented approach.

He started by talking a bit about the changes to the CEFR in 2018 (and the companion volume) which emphasized competency-based language teaching and learning outcomes as the primary goal of teaching.

He emphasized the importance of learners as a social agent, pointing out that communication involves real-life acts, achieving goals, mediation, use of a full linguistic repertoire, and that it’s social in nature. He explained that an action-oriented approach to teaching and learning fits with this, because it sees language as a vehicle for communication rather than a subject of study. To demonstrate his point, Allen gave a general example of teaching a familiar topic like days of the week in a behavioural, communicative and then action-oriented way – trying to show the value of real-world purpose, a functional approach, and the plurilingual competencies used throughout the process. It was simple, and yes not entirely foolproof, but it certainly helped make his point!

What made Allen’s talk really fitting in the context was that he highlighted how the action-oriented approach (with its focus on tasks) was compatible with other approaches – TBLT, project-based learning, problem-based learning, and so on. The examples he gave for TBLT related more to a task-supported approach which would be a good stepping stone for many teachers in this context. As Allen pointed out – small changes, big impact.

As I said, Allen’s talk was mainly an intro to this booklet from Dr Enrica Piccardo (a good read, highly recommended), and he mentioned the ‘communicative to action-oriented pathway’…

(It’s FSL as Piccardo’s focus is on French as a Second Language. Poster can be found here)

So anyway, a really interesting talk from Allen.

The bar!

Post-conference beers were awesome – it was a one-to-one with Allen Davenport. If you’ve ever met the guy, you’ll know that he does look like a quiz show / chat show host, so it did have that feel of the latter (well, an ELT chat show) – probing questions about approaches, contexts, being a consultant, writing, lifestyle challenges and so on. After spending three rather solitary months at a computer as a writer, it was so cool to be out and about and chatting ELT. Why ‘plurilingualism’ and not ‘translanguaging’? Is ‘mediation’ a buzzword? Whose take on ‘a task’ do you agree with? Will nodding and laughing at the right moments convince Allen that I know more than I do about Larsen-Freeman’s chaos/complexity theory in SLA?

A proper ELT geek-out. One of the highlights of a great weekend.

Categories: General, reflections, teacher development

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Looks like you had a great time Pete, and well done for presenting for the first time! I really hope it’s not the last, as I think you’ve got a lot which you can share at conferences – let me know if you want any help in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: