Saturday, 13 April 2013

IATEFL interviews - part two

As the first step in catching up with IATEFL 2013, I'm spending some time watching interviews with key players at the conference.  I find that this gives me real insights into some aspects of our profession that I might not have known about or sought out before.  I wrote about the day one interviews here.

Day two began with an interview with Victoria Boobyer, one of the founders of eltpics.  This is a fantastic resource for classroom use.  Teachers around the world share their photos under a creative commons license.  The photos are shared on Twitter (using the #eltpics hashtag) and then uploaded to Flickr by a dedicated team of volunteers.  They are organised into themed sets so that they can be easily accessed and utilised by teachers.  I have both shared photos with eltpics and made use of the resource myself in the classroom and recommend it to all teachers.  At IATEFL this week, Victoria presented on 'teaching with hand-held devices'.

The next interview was with David Crystal, the opening plenary speaker.  I'll hold off on writing about his interview, or indeed the next one with Deniz Kurtoglu Eken here, as I intend to summarise their presentations later.

There followed an interview with Katie Quartano and Paul Shaw talking about DAF, Disabled Access Friendly.  Their aim is to teach EFL and raise awareness of disability issues at the same time.  Their website, which has been live for just over a year and already attracts 10,000 hits a month from over 100 countries, has free teaching resources to use in the classroom.  They currently have 60 graded reader texts and lesson plans, all of which are free to use with no registration required.  They have plans to expand and are always looking for new ideas.  Teachers are welcome to send materials to the site for consideration.  The goal is to raise awareness in students who have no knowledge or experience of disabled people, but the material also challenges teachers.  Does the teacher have the confidence to question his own preconceptions and stereotypes?

Chia Suan Chong, Ken Wilson and Caroline Moore were interviewed next about the thinking behind the 'Failure Fest' that was coming up later in the week.  'Out of disaster comes success'.

Next up were Eryl Griffiths and Laxman Gnawali.  Eryl is on the IATEFL committee which co-ordinates the scholarships which allow participants to attend the conference.  Laxman, from Nepal, was one of this years' scholarship winners.  There are currently 28 scholarships on offer for each conference, though the hope is to increase that number for the 2016 50th anniversary IATEFL.  Applications for scholarships to attend next year's conference in Harrogate will open on 20th April and close on 22nd August.  Details will be available on the IATEFL website.

Mark Hancock was next, talking about a pronunciation SIG pre-conference event on English as a lingua franca.  The idea was put forward that we should look at the sounds of English that students have in their L1 rather than the ones they don't.  He also previewed his presentation on the problems of connected speech with this example:
  • Watch or a dress?
  • What's your address?
Also, which song did this student transcribe?
  • Yes, today.  Old mens' doubles teams so far away........   :-)
Duncan Foord
Being interviewed next was Duncan Foord.  He was talking about an 'open space conference'.  Based on the idea that at conferences, you often learn more during the coffee breaks than you do during the sessions themselves, creating an 'open space' gives an opportunity for an exchange of views and ideas rather than a speaker just addressing an audience.  Such a conference works on the 'law of two feet', whereby people can just walk away if the topic doesn't interest them.  Duncan hopes to add 'open spaces' to future IATEFL conferences. 

There followed two interviews with representatives from the British Council, Anna Searle and Martin Peacock before Philip Prowse came in to talk about the Extensive Reading Foundation, a non-profit organisation which runs the Language Learner Literature Awards.  Philip pointed out the use of the word 'literature' in the title of the awards, saying that just because a learner is a beginner at a language doesn't mean that he is a beginner at life and so he deserves to read something of quality.  Extensive reading is lots of reading at an appropriate level.  This has been proven to improve all skills, leading to better exam results.  The right level is deemed to be 95 - 98% comprehension.  Simply by reading, students improve their language ability, but material for graded readers needs to be interesting and appropriate.

Mark Walker was interviewed next.  He talked about the IELTS test and its global reach with 1.9 million tests now taken every year.  China and India are important markets for the test with the results being used for study, employment and emigration purposes.  The Take IELTS  and Road to IELTS websites from the British Council provide free practice materials for students, as well as tips for teachers.  The most important factor though, in Mark's opinion, is that students have a good grounding in general English before they even think about preparing for the IELTS test.

Jim Scrivener
The next interview was with Scott Thornbury who spoke about holistic learning and humanistic language teaching.  He was followed by Jim Scrivener talking about 'demand high' teaching.  This is an idea he came up with together with Adrian Underhill.  They both felt that students often just go through the motions when it comes to learning English and we, as teachers, don't push them hard enough.  We need to make students explore the language further.  Jim doesn't consider 'demand high'; to be a new methodology.  Rather, it's an idea, a meme.  He wants us all to ask ourselves:
  • Am I challenging my students as much as I could?
  • What more could I do?
Often, too much time is spent 'covering' the book or having fun.  We need to question the orthodoxy of what we're doing in ELT and where we've got to.  Teachers feel that their job is to keep turning the pages of a coursebook.  That's OK, but we can tweak it a bit so that we always ask, 'Where is the learning in this?'  Once we've understood where the learning is, we can help it to happen more.  We need to worry more about that and less about making sure we've got pretty pictures and great games.

Go to Jim's 'demand high' website to download some observation tasks for peer or self observations.  These will help us to look at how much we demand of our students.

Next came an interesting interview with Philida Schellekens who was talking about work-based language learning, trying to prepare students for the language they'll need in the workplace and using the medium of English to teach concepts, a little like CLIL for adults.  Based on her work with immigrant workers, particularly in the construction industry, Philida suggests that the best way we can help our students is to really understand the job they are going to do by shadowing a worker who does the job already.  Record what they say in order to get a real understanding of the language a student will need.  If possible, leave the recorder running and walk away - this way you'll get a more accurate picture.  For example, when it comes to swearing, you may well need to teach your students not only meaning, but appropriacy in context.  When you see what English is really needed and compare it with English syllabi we teach from, even ESP ones, the two don't match very well!!

Shaun Wilden gave the penultimate interview of the day.  His theme was 'autonomous CPD begins at home', a topic which is close to my heart and which usually involves me in a weekly 'meet-up' with Shaun for #eltchat.

Paul Seligson
Finally, it was the turn of Paul Seligson who spoke about the need for different approaches to teaching monolingual classes, particularly of low-level adult students.  Adult learners need confidence - they need to believe in their English speaking selves.  So many of them find the process of learning English too difficult and they give up.  We need to find ways to prevent this and one way would be to allow the limited use of L1 in the classroom.  Total immersion has its place with children and teens, but immersion with adult beginners is torture!  We need to allow them to use contrastive grammar and let them speak about it in their L1.  Prohibition is a blunt instrument which doesn't take account of the cognitive process.

So, those were day two's interviews..... and the answer to the song lyrics - 'Yesterday' by the Beatles - as if there's anyone reading this who didn't get that!! :-)


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