Ah! IATEFL was great, it really was! Just brilliant. Inspiring. It always is. Been busy since I’ve been back, lots of work waiting upon my return, so finally getting around to my blog now. Following on from day 1…
As I didn’t attend a specific stream on day 2, but many talks from many areas, it’s a difficult day to sum up. The first word I thought of was ‘innovation’ but some of the ideas are (as often happens with brilliant ideas) not ‘new’ as that word implies. I think ‘high expectations‘ does it, and I’ll explain why…
Kathleen Graves plenary was a reminder about efficiency in the classroom and the link to outcomes. What are the intangible, unmeasurable things we do in the classroom which appear to take away from efficiency but which lead to an environment which fosters learning? Creating such an environment takes time and so appears to be inefficient – but leads to longer term learning of educational goals. I can already see many ways I can use this within my quite different context. With high expectations placed on our students as we endeavour to offer good value, approaches and activity which facilitates learning is as important as the tasks where the learning takes place. This talk was particularly relevant to the research I undertook for my Phd, so I was very interested and inspired by this.
The next talk which stands out was the ELT Jam session on ‘What EdTech means for ELT’. It was an insightful, balanced and comprehensive investigation of the different perspectives on EdTEch, presenting the view points from teachers, learners, EdTech companies and the publishers. Their well-researched and thought provoking talk almost urged us to bring together the different strands of each stakeholder and come up with the next big thing in EdTech ourselves! Can be beat the publishers and the EdTech companies? That certainly is a high expectation! What the talk underlined for me is that the different parties have a lot to learn from each other.
I always make time to see Philida Schellekens whenever her name appears on a conference programme. And I’m never disappointed. Whenever I have seen her talk, while her areas of expertise are broad, the content is focussed, practical and covers two or three easily transferrable projects based on action research from her own teaching. This talk was called ‘language teaching techniques which work’ – which says it all, really. With so many fads in the TEFL world, it’s rare to get proven techniques (by a researcher and practitioner who actually teaches too and so is aware of the real life practicalities of teaching) which just help you get on with teaching and which get the students somewhere. The most well researched method can fall flat in the classroom if the research doesn’t take into account the people factor, the pressures and limits of come classrooms etc, and the methods many teachers love and feel instinctively are great (easy/fun) don’t actually have any impact on students’ learning. Philida presented two techniques which were so simple yet effective, and so easily slotted in to activities you probably do already, you were kicking yourself for not having thought of them earlier. The first included improving listening skills using video, audio and subtitles, based on research by Charles & Trenkic. The second was based on the research of R. Day and looked at how we can demand more of the more ‘usual’ reading tasks – how often do you do a reading with your students and leave it at that? This research suggests multiple reading of the same text promotes more effective fluency. In essence, we can have much higher expectations of each single task we present to our students and much higher expectations of their efficacy.
A similar concept was developed in Jim Scrivener’s talk on upgrading your teaching to demand high teaching, and what better way to conclude my ‘IATEFL Day 2’ on high expectations? Jim looked at exercises and tasks you would readily recognise and use regularly in your average language lesson. But, he took the tasks and upgraded them to anything but average in terms of what the students will get out of them. Again, for me it highlighted how often we get a great task, spend time introducing it, presenting students with the format, leading them to answer the task – and then leaving it at that. Students repeat their answers, usually in plenary format, usually in ‘reading out an answer’ tone of voice, the teacher says yes, the next student repeats their answer….half of the students and not engaged because they have already given their answer, the other half are not engaged because it is not their turn yet, one student is a bit engaged for the 7 seconds it is their turn to give an answer. Jim takes typical classroom tasks and asks:
- Are our learners capable of more, much more?
- Have the tasks and techniques we use in class become rituals and ends in themselves?
- How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning?
- What small tweaks and adjustments can we make to shift the whole focus of our teaching towards getting that engine of learning going?
By refocusing away from ‘covering’ material you end up thinking about the learning taking place instead. Tasks which you easily recognise, do and do again without really stopping to ask if the students learn anything from them were looked at from different angles, pushed until the potential of the task and students were reached, transformed into a valuable learning task, students are pushed just outside of their ZPD and, well, tasks are made much more fun. I’ve already passed on some of the tips during my recent staff appraisals, and teachers have been appreciative of a change to refresh their own classroom practice – it raises their interest level as well as that of their students.
Day 3 – the magic word for today was ‘networking’. I did attend one stand-out talk –Jenny Johnson’s ‘What makes teachers tick?’. And it’s not what you think! It all boils down to money, according to the most obvious answer. But research (both anecdotal and the more objective end of the scale) show it’s much more to do with intrinsic motivation factors, such as growth, recognition, achievement and the interest you have in the work itself. I’ll keep going with my CPD plan then! Jenny’s talks always give me such a boost as I continue to develop as a DOS, she is a star of ELT management.
The rest of Day 3 was largely given over to networking – by accident or planned! Networking as another valuable aspect of IATEFL and I made a point of seeking other Irish TEFLers this time. We hardly get change to see each other in our own country (though that is changing thanks to ELT Ireland). I also met some people I have had lots of contact with over email and had never met face to face. I think my favourite moment of networking was meeting John Walsh, the MD of BEBC. Oliver (my boss) and I got chatting to him quite by accident and, prompted by my interest in his surname (my own ancestral Irish surname) we learned a fascinating history of ‘Walsh’. It was the way he told it! Fascinating man.
Talks I wanted to see but couldn’t include Marisa C’s, George Pickering’s, Lou McLaughlin’s, Andy Hockley’s & Fiona Thomas’s, and (from what I have heard, the brilliant talk on pseudo-science in EFL given by Russ Mayne. People I wanted to meet but didn’t include: Sandy Millin, Maureen McGarvey (saw in the queue but didn’t have chance to tale – after following her brilliant IH ELT Management Diploma would have loved a catch up!)…oh, too many to mention. Would have been great to talk to the Secret DOS. Maybe I did?!
Will catch them next time.
Now to start putting it all into practice. I have very high expectations of the school, the team and of myself. The effects of IATEFL usually last until at least the next conference…