IATEFL 2013 – report

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MONDAY

This year I attended a PCE again, which was the Teacher Development programme. It was interesting to work together with international colleagues and I was in a great group who moved fast. This meant we not only worked on the tasks at hand, but also exchanged a lot of other teaching experiences and ideas. That made the day even more valuable than the programme itself. The most interesting part of that day’s programme for me was the session about brain-friendly learning. Trainer Mojca Belac made us do all kinds of hands-on activities to stimulate the brain, like connecting your brain halves, drinking water, breathing together, and much more. These hands-on activities are perfect for both my TEFL course about activating methodology, learning styles and brain-friendly learning and for general warmers at the start of any lesson.

TUESDAY

The key words on this first IATEFL conference day for me were BLEND(ED) and DEEP in all sorts of combinations: blended learning, syntactic blends and deep(er) reading/thinking/skills/learning… and high demand.

The plenary session by David Chrystal on Tuesday was entertaining and interesting, as usual. It is handy to know the term syntactic blends next time it emerges in class or on student work and to understand where it may come from. What struck me most is the amount of work the speaker obviously puts in preparing this presentation; he uses many relevant and often personal examples, which made his presentation even more attractive.

I attended the presentations of both teaching methodology authors: Jeremy Harmer and Jim Scrivener. Immediately after the session with Jim Scrivener about Demanding high’ I found this summary of it online: great work! http://chiasuanchong.com/2013/04/09/iatefl-part-2-jim-scrivener-on-demand-high/! It was a useful session making me think about the fact whether or not we always engage the full learning potential of your students.  Food for thought and a useful weblink: http://demandhighelt.wordpress.com

Jeremy Harmer’s comparison between music and language practice was quite useful. Things that music and language practice may have in common (which sounded very familiar to me from the years I practised playing the piano) are the following principles for success:

  • break down the learning material and slow down
  • warm up first before you start, then start with the tricky parts (don’t just play through the piece)
  • practise repeatedly and precisely – ‘play’ it a lot
  • concentrate – monitor what you are doing, using your intellect and your heart

In the afternoon I enjoyed the forum about early learning, especially the middle and second part. The differences between formal and informal instruction were explained and demonstrated. It was helpful to hear about some of the ten principles of Childhood Education. You can find all ten here: http://www.childcareonline.ie/uploads/10%20Principles.pdf

The project on academic writing on a German University of Professional Education was well-presented and informative. I liked the fact that the teacher had actually organised the project together with the students who were involved in many of the decisions made, which had given them much ownership and rewarding feelings.  Inspiring talk for any future challenges in my teaching.

WEDNESDAY

On Wednesday I was not very lucky with the sessions I attended. One session about authentic assessment in writing caused a strong reaction from the audience when they realised how the students had assessed their own work immediately after taking the written assessments without actually looking at their own work! It was reported that the students could actually assess their own work very accurately, which sounded amazing and unbelievable. It needed quite a bit of clarification, which was done in a calm and reasonably satisfactory manner. Meanwhile it created much rapport among the participants (might be a trick to use in the future?).

The session with Cambridge about assessing speaking was more useful though. We gained an insight in the criteria for assessment and the scales of the Cambridge exams. We will definitely use this to improve the grading scales and criteria at our college.

The session called ‘Do something you don’t want to do every day’ was a great feel good session to make up for this somewhat less useful day, confirming that I am the kind of teacher who likes to get out of the comfort zone at regular intervals, likes to experiment and challenge herself and her learners. We were told to try things like teaching a topic that scares you, use silence instead of what you see in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-S54bbX6eA and adapting your lesson plan to each group.

THURSDAY

Thursday started with a superfast plenary by Dr Jun Liu. Wow! If my students tell me that I speak too fast and move on to the next topic too fast again, I will refer them to the recorded talk on http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2013/sessions/2013-04-11/plenary-session-jun-liu-forward-2000-start-plenary.  Nevertheless, the topic of ELT Tomorrow was definitely useful and fortunately I could keep track thanks to two industrious Twitterati!

The 6 abilities of a future ELT practitioner, according to Dr Liu are:

  1. Make constant and effective changes
  2. Learn and speak at least one other language
  3. Teach less to maximise learning
  4. Teach English in at least one subject area
  5. Familiarize yourself with new learning and teaching modes
  6. Ensure learning outside the classroom

After that I had a great session about the use of etymology to help students memorise words more easily. This session inspired me so much, knowing I was going to teach a course in teaching vocabulary upon my return from Liverpool, that I spent some time in my hotel room to make similar power point slides with quizzes and tasks as were demonstrated in the session. Hands-on material to take home: perfect!

THURSDAY

Thursday turned to be a day packed with good sessions. The 10 questions about mobile learning provided food for thought again, e.g. how are these devices positioned in language learning and what are the implications of the students without any?  More technology was discussed in the session on the use of Facebook in an EFL context. Having recently resuscitated my own account there and using it with students to exchange information and inspiration made this practical session quite useful.

The last session of that day was a confirmation of the fact that the teacher is allowed quite some Teacher Teaching Time as long as you use it wisely and effectively: Quality Teacher Teaching Time. We got to hear and see some great examples of this, which not only engaged but really energised the audience. I liked the proposed approach of communicating with students instinctively based on positive rapport, providing communicative feedback and teaching responsively. Five aspects were mentioned to create quality teacher teaching time:

  1. Making use of teacher performance – start every lesson with a poem/joke/…
  2. Making use of responsive teaching – based on students’ needs
  3. Teacher intermingling – there when students are working, ready to be asked something
  4. Teacher task participation – become part of the lesson
  5. Teacher chat  – meaningful and authentic exchange!

All five aspects were demonstrated with a poem called ‘Not now, Bernard’ by David McKee (video version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2CjdRWmfdo). We were first asked to add one word to ‘not now’ to make it an expression, e.g. ‘Not now, stupid/please/darling/etc’ (teacher chat). Second, the poem was read out to us and we had to think of it as a cartoon (teacher performance).  Third, we had to run through the poem/story in our minds and then we briefly discussed the question of whose fault it was that Bernard is eaten by the monster (real interaction, responsive teaching).  Fourth, we would be asked to make a cartoon version ourselves and complete the speech bubbles (teacher can mingle and / or take part). For homework we would be asked to find as many examples of ‘not now’ as possible, which we would categorise in class next time (responsive teaching, teacher chat).

FRIDAY

On Friday my best session was the one about portfolio assessments in EAP: worth the effort or not? This topic was highly relevant to my own teaching practice and it was well organized overall. It is fair to say that it is definitely worth the effort and we will definitely use the notes and hand-out of this session when we will redevelop the set-up of our own programme and portfolio. We exchanged many good ideas, such as handing out model papers, giving students more choice and using peer correction more often. We went straight to the closing plenary by Roger McGough from there to sit back and relax for his excellent and entertaining performance. What a great way to say goodbye to Liverpool and the annual conference! To watch it (again), check http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2013/sessions/2013-04-12/plenary-roger-mcgough.

Apart from all the great sessions I attended and like-minded people I spoke to, the perfect organisation of the conference also made it a great experience for me. I look forward to going to Harrogate next year. I have already made a draft speaker proposal and have agreed to go for it next year, together with a charming Brazilian colleague I met on the first day. I hate breaking promises, so…

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