When I got back home after the annual IATEFL conference, I did not have enough time to look back on the past two days at the conference, which were very fulfilling. I had to catch up on piles of correction work first. Now, using some lost time waiting, I am going to give it another go, after having started this report on the plane back home. Looking at my programme for the second part of the conference, especially on Monday, I had planned my programme really well and that paid off. I attended six sessions, all of which were interesting and relevant professionally. I will report on the most instructive and inspiring ones for me here.

I started off with Nicky Hockly‘s session on Going Mobile and this made me so enthusiastic that I immediately went to buy the book that she co-authored with Gavin Dudeney, at the exhibition. I even managed to get it authographed by her later on. What I loved about her session was the fact that she stimulates the use of mobile devices, advising teachers not to involve the ICT people if you can avoid it, as they usually haven’t got a clue about what you want for teaching. She even said you’d better lock them in a cupboard :-)! In the book you can find the 10 step implementation plan that helps you to go mobile successfully. In short, it comes down to these steps: 

  1. identify reasons for going mobileIMG_0414
  2. assess your context
  3. involve all stakeholders
  4. present your case
  5. create learning plans
  6. assign teacher champions
  7. run a pilot phase
  8. evaluate your pilot phase
  9. extend the implementation plan
  10. provide ongoing teacher development

My second session that day was very popular and was fully booked: Luke Meddings’ session on pronunciation. It was very entertaining and engaging because of all the successful imitations by Luke and the practical activities we engaged in. It was a room full of laughter, a real feel good session with some useful ideas as a bonus! In short, Luke explained how you can help your learners to “unfreeze” for successful pronunciation practice. He described what key elements to look for in an accent in order to imitate it successfully. He stimulated us to get out of our comfort zones to give it a go and used chewing gum as a surprising tool to relax us before imitating John Lennon (try singing ‘All you need is love’ in a lazy way). A great idea that I have already tried with my students who take tutorial sessions for pronunciation and transcription. Unfortunately the ‘Sweetarts’ which I bought in Manchester turned out to be hard sweets instead of chewy ones I had expected, but I think the students still relaxed because of the fun we had tasting the different flavours of the “tangy candies”! I have also taken away the idea of singing from this workshop and found some more interesting information on using singing for pronunciation practice that I used in class, so this was a very inspiring workshop for me. At this moment our students are taking oral exams to be assessed on their pronunciation and it is so true that they have to find their own identity in speaking English. Quite a few of my student teachers are not consistent in their pronunciation yet and have to figure out who they want to be, speaking English. Again, this is something Luke pointed out in his memorable workshop.

Chaz Puglieze also had a very engaging session on the ‘good old’ Communicative approach (the 7 principles dating back to 1973!!) and how we can use interaction and meaningful context to have students practise grammar. I worked together with a local teacher from Manchester who worked as a steward at the conference and who could join sessions herself at times. We had a lot of fun doing the practical activities, such as matching sentences we had made up independently before. For example she made sentences starting with On the one hand,… while I made sentences starting with On the other hand,… Next we paired up the sentences by reading them out and matching them. Our best match was: ‘On the one hand, he is extremely handsome. On the other hand, who cares?’

After that, I attended the charming Joan Kang Shin’s session on the new course of English using international children’s songs. It confirmed what I already know about using music in teaching language to young learners, which is what my own workshop was about as well. What I thought was very interesting was the use of world songs that children learn everywhere when they are young, almost always combined with memorable gestures and body movements and a lot of repetition that support retention. Joan explained how her mother, at the start of this project, was asked to sing a children’s song from her youth and could retrieve all the words by means of the gestures that came with the song. This confirmed that movement with the lyrics is important. Joan has collected a great number of songs from all over the world, which were sent to her including the melody and the accompanying movements and gestures. Interestingly, all world songs were then translated into rhyming English fitting the original melody and have been used for this course. Joan has recorded all the songs herself and acts out the accompanying gestures that come with the songs: I think she has done a great job! We had a pleasant session with some singing along, but also enjoying Joan’s lovely voice. You can find more information about the course here.

I did another session on pronuncation by Richard Benson, entitled ‘Do we still need the phonemic chart?’ Richard was a bit worried about the fact that pronunciation-guru Adrian Underhill was attending the session, but I think he had an interesting session in which he came up with reasons why the phonemic chart is not helpful, for instance because of changes in RP (tore and tour being pronounced the same way) or your accent not being represented by the chart. However, Richard also gave reasons for using the phonemic chart and suggested ways to get students on board with the phonemic chart by using it judiciously. An idea that appealed to me was to do activities that make students understand why it is useful to study the chart, such as checking place names. Since we use the phonemic chart with our student teachers, I agree that we definitely need the phonemic chart as a standard and as a tool for students to improve their own and their future pupils’ pronunciation.

On Tuesday I attended two more talks, which gave me some useful ideas. First I was in Marisa Constantinides‘ talk about using Evernote for lesson obeservation. Because technology was not cooperative, I used most of the session in a crampy room to experiment with Evernote. So far I only used it once to make notes and once to draw the plan of a house, but now I tried out making notes, and inserting a snapshot of the room and a short recording of the session to see how it can be used during a lesson observation. Together with Marisa’s examples of how she uses the notes and recordings with students, I have decided to use Evernote for my next school visit to make notes of my observations. An idea I like is to give (part of) your notes to the student teacher you have observed and let him analyse one or two aspects in his lesson, such as interventions, instruction, Teacher Talking Time versus Student Talking Time. Despite the technical kerfuffle during this session, I took away a useful idea.

The last session this year was Charles Hadfield‘s session on grammar practice. Here I tried out some practical activities for productive grammar practice that can come in handy when teaching Pedagogical Grammar next academic year. The activity I liked most was making a short poem using prepositions. Charles showed us a picture and an example poem to demonstrate the structure. After that we were asked to do something similar about a random situation. This was my poem:

The top drawer of the cupboard

In the living room

Next to the table

Besides the clock

Hides a…

Looking back on this best part of the conference for me, I can say that the IATEFL has met my expectations yet again. Seeing that I have already used some practical ideas from sessions I attended and knowing there will be more to follow up on, I already look forward to Birmingham next year.

My colleague and I even had an afternoon left after the last session to explore the centre of Manchester, which turned out to be pleasant sightseeing and some shopping, while paying attention not to be caught in all the road works going on at that time. I am sure next time in Manchester the city centre will be easier to navigate on foot, which is definitely worth your while. We discovered some nice places of interest like the library and the area around the cathedral, where old and new meet.