Sunday, 21 April 2013

IATEFL Interviews - part three

As part of my plan to catch 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 and day two's here.

Alan Maley
The first interview on day three was with IATEFL lifetime achievement winner, Alan Maley, who I was lucky enough to meet at a conference in Saigon last year.  he was talking about the difference between preparation and preparedness.  Teacher training prepares teachers in terms of pedagogical knowledge, classroom management, etc., but, in reality, most of what happens in the classroom is unpredictable.  How do we train teachers for what Alan calls, 'the Dark Matter'?  We need to train them in 'preparedness' as well as 'preparation'.  Preparation is being ready for what you assume will happen.  Preparedness is being ready for anything!  It is congruent with dogme teaching - 'going with the flow'.  Alan advocates the need for spontaneous activities to be built in to teacher training courses.  He believes we should start teachers on the path to 'preparedness' during initial training, rather than waiting for it to come with experience and his talk at the conference would focus on techniques like theatre improvisation and clowning to facilitate this.

The next interview was with Abdoul Ka from Senegal an Partha Sarathi Misra from India.  They are IATEFL scholarship winners and they talked about what they will be taking back to their home countries and how they will communicate what they have learned to their colleagues.

Mike Harrison
Mike Harrison was next up, talking about experimental practice for PD - doing things you don't normally do in class.  This involves researching new methods, incorporating them into your lessons, documenting what happens, reflecting on it and adopting the results.  For the results to be meaningful, the process needs to be repeated at different times with different groups.

The next person to be interviewed was Hywel Coleman.  He has been researching the use of English in eight West African countries that use French as their official language.  English is typically the third language of these African children, but there is a need for them to achieve proficiency in it driven by trade, business and international peace-keeping forces.

Then Jamie Keddie was interviewed about 'videotelling' - using video clips for teacher-led storytelling in the classroom.  The idea is to deconstruct a video and take a narrative from it to tell a story.  Students don't see the video until they have heard the whole story, thus increasing its impact.  Jamie advocates the 'say something, ask something' approach in order to keep students' attention throughout the story.  There are sample lesson plans on his website, including the one he demonstrated in this interview, 'Breathing Holes'.  For videotelling to work, teachers need to plan really well - preparation, visualisation, exploration, resolution.

Jeremy Harmer
Sue Leather came next, talking about the graded readers which are produced by National Geographic in conjunction with Cengage.  She was closely followed by Jeremy Harmer who spoke about the connection between developing musical ability and developing linguistic ability.  His ideas were inspired by the book 'Guitar Zero', written by Gary Marcus.  When it comes to learning a musical instrument, the belief has always been that if you do enough practice, you'll get good.  Now we know that it's not enough simply to go through the motions - the brain has to be engaged.  It is better to practise for ten minutes, solve a problem and concentrate on it, than to practise for an hour doing scales with your brain elsewhere.  So, how does this translate to language learning and teaching?  Perhaps we need to really focus on a small piece of language and ask questions like, 'where are the pauses?', 'what's the intonation?', 'what does it mean?'  Jeremy doesn't have the answers yet, but feels that exploring the connection between musical ability development and language acquisition is a worthwhile thing to do.

Jeremy stayed on to interview Vicky Saumell who talked about using e-publishing to enable students to reach a wider audience than just their teacher.  Students pay more attention to accuracy if they think other people will read/watch/listen to their work.  This wider audience could simply be other classes in the school or it could involve having an online presence and inviting public comment.  Blogging, Skype interviews and online projects could all be used.

The next interview was with Tim Phillips, Zhou Liping and Keith O'Hare who spoke about the need for more and more teachers worldwide, particularly for junior and primary schools and in the specialism of business English.  The British Council is working on this in many countries.  Nowhere is the need greater than in China.  They were followed into the interview room by Zhang Jinxiu and Anna Searle who continued on the same topic, Anna explaining about the BC's global offering for teachers and Zhang Jinxiu talking about her experiences of ELT in China.

ELT Journal editor, Graham Hall was next.  He spoke about the journal and made a call for articles.  These articles should be 4000 words long and have up to fifteen references.

New IATEFL president, Carol Read, was closely followed by Carl-Johan Westring from EF Education First.  Founded in Sweden in 1965, EF now has 3,500 staff in 450 schools worldwide, making it one of the biggest private language school organisations in the world.  Carl spoke about EF's English Proficiency Index (EPI), a report on how the world speaks English compiled from the results of 1.7 million test takers in 54 countries.  You can read more about this at

The final interview of the day was with Michael Connolly, an English language advisor with the British Council in India.  His work focusses on teacher training, particularly the Bihar Language Initiative for Secondary Schools (BLISS) project.  Bihar is one of the least developed states in India with a history of bad governance.  In the last five years, however, there has been a new, progressive government that has asked the BC to help with its English programme.  Together they have set up a group of 160 teacher educators, four from each district of the state.  All of these trainers are Indian and have Hindi as their first language.  Teachers are from low-resourced schools and communities.  80% of homes have no electricity.  Many have no water.  Teachers have had no training in the past.  Many of them do not even really know what a teacher is.  They have, however, embraced the new ideas very quickly and Michael reports that it's a very motivating project to be involved in - tough, but challenging.  You can learn more about the project by watching this video:


In the world in which we live in - a summary of David Crystal's plenary at IATEFL 2013

David Crystal
I have to admit that, despite my best intentions, I didn't manage to see much of this year's IATEFL conference in Liverpool live, but I'm certainly catching up now by watching the recordings.  There was one session I saw live, though - the opening plenary by David Crystal.  It felt great to 'be' there, even though I was sitting at my desk 6,000 miles away in Vietnam.  Before the plenary began, Eric Baber invited the audience in the hall to wave to all those of us following online, wherever we were in the world.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one to wave back!!  What follows is a summary of David's presentation.  I realise I am by no means the only one to do this, but I'm writing it anyway for my own PD and as a reference for anyone else who wasn't there on the day.

The full title of the session was:

In the world in which we live in - Beatles, blends and blogs 
Clearly, the inspiration for the first part of the title comes from a line in the Paul McCartney's hit, 'Live and Let Die', 'This ever-changing world in which we live in'.  There is a double preposition here which people don't notice when they listen to the song - it only becomes apparent when you see it written down.  Indeed, so many people noticed it when it was published in the pre-conference material that David was inundated with messages from people telling him about the 'mistake' in the title of his plenary!
So, what do we have here?  Well, it's a syntactical blend.  We're quite used to lexical blends (new words formed from two existing words), such as brunch, motel and heliport.  Indeed, such words usually find their way into dictionaries when they are accepted into common usage.  Syntactical blends, in contrast, don't find their way into grammar books.  No matter how widely they are used, they are still considered to be wrong.  Grammar books do not help language learners to understand the syntactic blends they will hear all the time in spoken English and even see written down.
Look at these examples:
  • I don't know to which hotel I'm going to.
  • From which country does a Lexus come from?
  • For which party will you vote for?

Syntactic blends happen when people are unsure which structure to use.  This often happens when there is a clash between formal and informal usage.  The old rule was always - Never end a sentence with a preposition.  This led to ludicrous and some tongue-in-cheek examples, such as Churchill's famous '...something up with which he would not put'!!  This rule has left a legacy that an end-placed preposition is wrong, but natural speech makes it sound better, especially if it's a monosyllabic preposition that naturally goes after a verb to make a phrasal verb. 
We are more likely to see these blends when there is a lot of distance between the two prepositions.  Blending, though, can take place between any two or more constructions.  They happen all the time in spoken English.  These blends even have a name - anacoluthon (plural - anacolutha) - meaning constructions lacking in grammatical accuracy.  They often happen when you start a sentence, change your mind about what you are going to say half way through, and finish in a different way.
Until comparatively recently, blends rarely appeared in public writing because they were edited out.  Now, however, with the popularity of blogs, we are seeing them more and more.  When it comes to publishing blogs, there is little or no external editing.  The style might be spontaneous and conversational, but, because it is written down, the image is that it is formal and careful.  As blog writers, we could self-edit, but the evidence is that we rarely do.  Therefore, blends appear in blogs all the time.
Grammar helps us to psychologically process what's going on.  The number of chunks we can process is limited by our memory.  Therefore, if there are too many words between the noun and the verb phrase, errors are likely to occur.  Comprehension is governed by the distribution of weight throughout a sentence.  In English, we usually put the weight at the end of a sentence, after the main verb.  There is sometimes a little adverbial length before the main verb, but not much.  If too much information is put before the main verb, it's difficult to understand.  The longer the subject goes on, the more irritated the listener gets.
For native speakers and proficient users, blends occur when the grammar doesn't keep pace with the writer's thought.  So, it is obvious that learners' writing will often contain blends, especially if they are trying to use more complex structures.  Blends tend to be more common when there's pressure on the speaker or writer, homework deadlines or presentations in front of the class, for example. 
In our learners, blends should be seen as evidence of growth, not as errors.  As emotions rise, blends increase.  It's no good telling a student blends are wrong if they see them all the time on the internet.  As teachers, we need to be tolerant.  We shouldn't teach blends, but we need to know how to disentangle and explain them.
David's final thought - 'Don't condemn yourself if you use a blend - after all, it;'s the world in which we live in!'
You can find the pdf of David's slides here.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Managing your teaching staff

This was the title of the second in a series of monthly CPD webinars hosted by the British Council.  You can read more about the programme here.

The full title of this webinar was 'Managing your teaching staff - how to keep a staff motivated, challenged and developing professionally.  It was presented by Fiona Dunlop and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

Fiona began by telling us that getting to know our teachers is the key to our success.  There are various ways of getting to know our staff and finding out what motivates them:

  • informal and active listening - just being around the staff room.
  • teacher feedback - using Survey Monkey, for example or by conducting entry and exit interviews.
  • student feedback.
  • PD interviews - setting development goals and conducting appraisals.
  • informal regular meetings.
  • interactions at workshops.
  • structured classroom observation programmes.
  • meetings using the British Council framework for CPD.  This is not a linear framework - no development can be.  We need to ask teachers to identify where they think they are in terms of their own development.
The CPD page of the English Agenda site from the British Council has lots of useful information to help, including:
  • a handbook for managers
  • a handbook for teachers
  • a framework for CPD
  • a portal with advice, suggestions and video clips

The British Council CPD Framework
  • is an 'all staff' tool with an individual focus.
  • provides guidance for managers and teachers.
  • provides objectivity in appraisals and meetings.
  • lays the foundation for a joined-up CPD programme and appraisal system.
  • suggests individual and achievable goals for staff.
  • allows teachers to identify areas for development which would be of interest to them.  (A calendar of workshops alone is not sufficient - some teachers may not like workshops, but may be good at research, for example.)
  • encourages teachers to take responsibility for their own development and wider career pathway.
English Agenda as a whole opens up a larger community of ELT professionals to our teachers and ourselves.  It's a great way to network.


Observations serve two purposes:
  1. Quality assurance/control
  2. CPD
Traditional, formal observations are needed for QA purposes and to give us an idea of what a new teacher is like when they first join our organisation, but all observations should have a developmental element.  We owe it to our teachers to make them comfortable with observations.

Developmental Observation Types

1.  Unobserved - rather than someone going into the class, the teacher does their own observation.  
  • The teacher writes the plan and does all of the preparation as if they were going to be observed.  
  • The teacher discusses the plan and any anticipated problems with the manager before the lesson.
  • The teacher delivers the lesson.
  • The manager and the teacher meet afterwards to discuss what happened in the lesson.
The process should be taken seriously with times scheduled for pre- and post- observation meetings.

2.  Filmed/recorded - this needs to be structured and a record kept to show that development has been achieved.
  • With the consent of the students, the camera can be turned on them.  It's good for teachers to see how their lesson is received.
  • The recording can be listened to or watched back together with the manager or by the teacher alone.
3.  Paired peer - peer observations need to be structured with both pre- and post- observation meetings taking place between the colleagues.  There should be no pressure and no threat.  Both the observer and the observee should learn from the experience.

4.  10 minute - during induction, the manager watches the new teacher and, on the basis of what he sees, he recommends four or five other teachers to go and see for ten minutes each.  In this way, the new teacher gets a real feel for the school.

5.  Short burst/repeated theme - this type of observation is used to work on a specific area.  The teacher invites the manager or a peer to come into his class several times over several weeks in order to work on one particular aspect of his teaching.

Action Research

This lends itself to more experienced or stagnant teachers.  There are several stages involved in action research and all stages need to be guided by the manager.
  1. Self observation with a detailed lesson plan - a holistic view.
  2. Identify one area of teaching to focus on.
  3. Self observe again with a focus on that particular area - What do you like?  What could you do better?
  4. Take time to think (2 weeks or a month) about how to improve/develop.  Do research.  Read.  Talk to colleagues.  Observe your peers.  Talk to your academic manager.  Write a blog.
  5. Try out and experiment with new ideas.  Go outside your comfort zone.
  6. Analyse your performance again.  Keep detailed records.
  7. Make a deduction.
  8. Incorporate what you have learned into everyday teaching.
  9. Do further, in-depth research and pass your findings on in the form of a teaching seminar in-house and/or at a teachers' conference.  Or write an article.
  10. From this, set a teaching goal and a PD goal to be achieved in a given time.
The whole process of action research can take three, six or, even, nine months.  It should never be imposed on teachers.  It is up to the teacher to get involved.

  • Think of three different teachers you know and manage.
  • Which observation types would be suitable for them?  Why?
  • How would you set the observations up?
  • Now approach them and ask them what they think.
  • Spend time getting to know your teaching team and what motivates them to continue learning and developing.
  • Introduce the staff to different forms of developmental observations.
  • Use an objective framework such as the British Council one to guide and support teachers and managers.
  • Ensure there is a clear school ethos and management belief in learning and development.
  • Reflect regularly on the CPD systems of the organisation with all relevant staff members.
A motivated and
developing teaching staff

Internal customer
satisfaction (teachers)
External customer
satisfaction (students)

A well-rounded

learning organisation

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Six Abilities for Competent Teachers - an #eltchat summary

Following a discussion between @ShaunWilden and @Marisa_C at IATEFL 2013 in Liverpool last week, some changes were made to the way we select topics for #eltchat, as explained here.  So, the chats on Wednesday 17th April were the first using the new procedure and, on this occasion, the decision was made to discuss the same topic during both the 12 noon and the 9pm BST chats.  What follows is a summary of both conversations. 

Jun Liu
The idea for the chat came from Jun Liu's plenary talk on 'ELT Tomorrow' at IATEFL.  He concluded his presentation by suggesting that there are six abilities competent teachers will need in the future.  These are:
  1. Make constant and effective changes.
  2. Learn and speak at least one other language.
  3. Teach less to maximize learning.
  4. Teach English in at least one subject area.
  5. Familiarise oneself with new learning and teaching modes.
  6. Ensure learning outside the classroom.
We will look at each ability in turn and summarise what the #eltchatters had to say about it, both in terms of how relevant they think it is and how they can go about developing it.
Make constant and effective changes
@Marisa_C started us off on this one by asking if this is possible for every teacher and wondering how it might be done.  @teflrinha pointed out that the changes don't have to be big ones - tweaks can be just as effective.  @ShaunWilden suggested that we leave out the 'constant' and just talk about 'effective' changes.  After all, change for the sake of change is nonsense - all changes have to be for a reason. 

@theteacherjames took this point to mean CPD which, as he said, nobody should disagree with!  Most participants agreed that good teachers always try to engage in reflective practice and make tweaks and changes as a result.  Indeed, Adrian Underhill gave a talk on this very topic last year. 

So, as @adi_rajan said, the real question is not whether change is good (that's a given), but why many teachers can't or won't commit to change.  We all know teachers who teach the same thing in the same way year after year.  @jo_sayers suggested that the word 'constant' would put some people off and that it would perhaps be better to replace it with 'regular'.  @pjgallantry went further and asked whether we need to constantly reinvent the wheel, to which @theteacherjames responded by saying that he interpreted #1 as meaning a constant evolution as opposed to a constant revolution.

At the end of this part of the discussion, the vast majority of participants agreed that, whilst implementing ongoing and effective change might be challenging, it is preferable to doing nothing and becoming sedentary.  We do, though, need pauses between changes - a time to reflect, look, listen and think.
Learn and speak at least one other language

We had an #eltchat on the value of learning another language for EFL/ESL teachers last October. You can read the summary here.

There was a general consensus amongst participants that learning another language is a good idea for English language teachers as it gives us a greater understanding of and empathy for what our students are going through.  Even if we are really bad at learning languages (myself, @jimscriv  and @ShaunWilden!), our experiences can still benefit our students.  @MarjorieRosenbe told us how she often gives her students tips on how she learned German in order to help them develop strategies for learning English.  Hearing about difficulties experienced by their teacher can be very motivating for students!  @theteacherjames blogged about his experiences as a language learner as did @kenwilsonlondon.
Many of us remembered how effective it was to have a foreign language lesson at the start of our CELTA courses and @hartle lamented the fact that such lessons have disappeared from her centre as it was thought that they were an outdated idea.  @Marisa_C told us that she regularly teaches Turkish or Greek or French on the first day of her courses as a great way for trainees to experience what it's like to be a beginner.  @teflrhina can still remember the Japanese she learned on such a course 24 years ago!!  I have to say that the Greek I learned on mine has gone from my mind completely!!

Amongst the general flag-waving in favour of learning another language, @JonnyLewington sounded a note of caution, reminding us that everyone learns differently and that we shouldn't draw too many conclusions from our own learning experiences.
Teach less to maximise learning
It would appear that we all liked this one!!  It is the basis of 'demand high'.  'Less is more!!'  As @Charlesrei1 put it, 'for my adult learners, the hunt is more engaging than being fed!'  It is about reducing teacher talk time (or, as @hartle said, aiming for QTT - quality talk time) and leaving more space for students to discover and practise.  We need to give students more responsibilty for their own learning. 

@jimscriv told us that his watchword here is Adrian Underhill's, 'The least that is enough'.  It doesn't mean, 'Don't teach'.  It could mean, 'Teach a lot'.
@Marisa_C said it's about having fewer activities in a lesson, but doing them well.  She often observes classes 'chock-a-block with small, piddly bytes of this and that with no time for students to process or prepare or use'!!  What we need is quality in the classroom and time to learn it.  We need to give our students proper guidance and fully exploit all the activities we use.

@AlexandraKouk pointed out that many teachers feel guilty if there is even a short stretch of silence in class - that they aren't 'doing' anything, but as @kevchanwow said, this is, in fact the best kind of teaching.  Perhaps, students need to be taught to appreciate this kind of approach, though, as some of them demand more explicit instruction.  This is clearly necessary at times, but the question is when, how and how much?

Perhaps the key skill is knowing when to 'teach', when to 'guide', when to 'question' and when to 'leave space'.  (@Charlesrei1)  As @pjgallantry said, 'we should focus on smart teaching, not lots of teaching - focussed, observation-based, learner-centred.'
Teach English in at least one subject area
This one seemed to be the one that the majority of #eltchatters disagreed with.  Jun Liu's premise was that, seeing as learners are starting their English studies younger and younger, by the time they graduate high school, their competency in English will be such that they no longer need to be taught general English.  Therefore, at tertiary level in particular, English teachers will need to be able to teach another subject in order to stay competitive in the job market.  This is certainly not the case in my context here in Vietnam where, even after ten years' worth of English lessons in school, students arrive at university and test at beginner or elementary level.  This is unlikely to change in my lifetime and, if anything, the demand for general English teachers will increase as education authorities accept that they need better qualified teachers in primary and secondary schools.  @MarjorieRosenbe told us that the situation was the same in her context in Austria and @ShaunWilden suggested that Jun Liu's conclusion, in this instance, was perhaps the effect of a limited pool of research.
Some participants did point out that teaching another subject in English does give teachers another perspective, as with teachers of business English for example, but nobody thought it was absolutely necessary as a skill for future English language teachers.  @jimscriv said that schools overvalue content knowledge and that in fact, given one week's start on the students, most English teachers could teach most subjects anyway!
Familiarise oneself with new learning and teaching modes
Here, Dr Liu was talking largely, though not exclusively, about teachers keeping up with advances in technology.  In an environment where most of our students are digital natives, we, as teachers, need to make sure we are not left behind.  Let them teach us if need be!!  Students seem very comfortable with texting, checking the internet, listening or watching something - all at the same time - and we have to multi-task, too.  As Dr Liu said, 'Technology is inevitable; you can't avoid that.'  :-)
It seemed that all #eltchatters agreed with the premise.  As @kevchanwow said, 'Students don't see technology as set apart from daily life.  If you can't integrate it into the classroom, the class feels more artificial.'  However, @jankenb2 reminded us that technology is a tool and that, in using it, we must not lose sight of our goal.
Under this heading, too, it is important to be familiar with new teaching approaches and techniques.  As with ability #1, we need to be ready to change and innovate, though, again, not just for the sake of it.  In learning about new methods, we should be wary of dismissing tried and trusted ways just because they are older.
Ensure learning outside the classroom
This is seen as vital by the vast majority of #eltchatters, especially for students who don't naturally get any exposure to English outside the classroom.  Like #3, it is also about maximising learner autonomy.  Perhaps we can't 'ensure', but we can facilitate and encourage.
How can we achieve this?
  • Engage students by giving them interesting ideas and links (via @MarjorieRosenbe)
  • Set homework which requires students to research websites in English (via @jankenb2)
  • Allow students to choose their own topics to research and projects to work on in their own time.
  • Get students to record responses in English to tasks.
  • Recommend podcasts for students to listen to.
  • Do an inventive dictation exercise as in this example (via @hartle)
  • In a multi-lingual environment, have a tandem programme whereby students are paired with a native speaker of a language different to their own and they have to spend time together speaking in English (via @MarjorieRosenbe)
  • Set group project work (via @AlexandraKouk)
  • Encourage students to continue classroom discussions via Facebook, for example.
  • Use Edmodo as an extension of your real classroom.
  • Apply flipped classroom principles (via jankenb2)
  • Phone them late at night at home. Repeatedly. Talk at length in English. :-) (via @jimscriv)
Final Thoughts
@hartle posed the question at the beginning of the early chat as to which of the six abilities we thought was the most important.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to discuss this in either chat or, indeed, to respond to the suggestion that we come up with our own #eltchat list of abilities.  I'm sure this is a subject we will return to!

An Aside

The plan was to write this summary in collaboration with my friend and colleague, Lesley Cioccarelli (@cioccas). We both took part in the early chat and read the transcript for the late one, and intended to get together in a virtual way to write it up. However, time constraints for both of us (and the fact that I'm a bit of a control freak!!) meant that I'm solely responsible for what you have just read. I hope I have done justice to what was a stimulating and fast-moving couple of hours and I hope Lesley will agree to work with me on future collaborative projects!!

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!! :-)


IATEFL 2013 ends - now the reflection begins

IATEFL 2013 ended last night in Liverpool and from my perspective here in Vietnam, I have to say, it's been quite a week!  Full of resolve and good intentions at the start of the week, by Tuesday I was feeling rather overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information coming at me from all directions!  Then, work commitments had to take priority, so, for the latter part of the conference, the only connection I had with proceedings was via the Twitter feed.  I still felt, though, that I was part of it and I was inspired by the snippets I was reading.

Now it is Saturday morning and I am beginning the mammoth task of catching up on what I missed.  Several members of my PLN have been saying the same thing - it feels like we've got several months' worth of interviews and presentations to watch, blogposts and articles to read, links to follow.  With so much information out there, it's tempting to think, 'why bother?'  For me, the answer is simple - it's for my own CPD.  I will learn a huge amount by following up on events in Liverpool and reflecting on them.  As is my wont, I will write up a lot of what I see and publish posts here on my blog.  This is mainly for my own benefit, but if others read what I write and gain some insight or ideas from it, then it's all to the good.

I know there will be plenty of people, many of them better qualified than I, writing about IATEFL in the coming weeks and months, but I make no apologies for adding to the plethora of posts which will appear.  Watch this space - there's plenty to come!!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The IATEFL effect - I think my head might explode!!

As I write, day two of IATEFL 2013 (day one of the conference proper) is still in full flow.  Here in Vietnam, however, Tuesday 9th April is almost over and I am reflecting on how it's been for me so far.  The answer is .... frenetic!  In my desire to be a part of things, even from 6000 miles away, I've definitely tried to do too much.  After experiencing technical difficulties yesterday (I wrote about these here), I got up at the crack of dawn this morning (actually, that's a lie - it was still pitch black outside when I switched on my computer!) in an attempt to catch up on all the recorded interviews I'd missed.  I was largely successful in this endeavour and wrote a post about what I'd seen, but the consequence of my nocturnal writings was that I was already tired when I started work and was in no fit state to cope with the cyber onslaught I was bombarded with when events got under way in Liverpool at 9am BST (3pm here)!

I was geared up to watch David Crystal's plenary.  It was important for me to experience it live, rather than watch the recording later.  What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the huge amount of activity in the hour or so before the conference actually started.  My wonderful PLN were tweeting and retweeting like crazy.  The sense of excitement was palpable, even from all these miles away.  I was desperately trying to keep up - I didn't want to miss a single choice nugget - but it was impossible; my Twitter feed has never whizzed by at such a rate in all the years I've been using it!

Sandy Millin
One member of my PLN, the fantastic @sandymillin, was tweeting about Mike Hogan's presentation which was on before the opening plenary.  It was the next best thing to being there myself, but I was blown away when notification of her summary of Mike's talk in the form of a blog post published on her site, dropped into my inbox at 2.51pm (8.51am in the UK)!!  At that point, I gave up any idea of trying to keep up and sat back to rethink my strategy!

I did watch the opening plenary live and really enjoyed it, especially when Eric Baber invited delegates to wave down the camera to all those of us tuning in around the world and we all waved back!  By the end of David's talk, I had reminded myself of why I was following IATEFL online (for my own PD) and had accepted that there was no way I'd be able to record all the amazing things I was seeing and hearing.  Instead, I decided that, for the rest of the week, I'll watch as much as I can live, bookmark everything else I don't want to miss, and then write measured, reflective posts when I have time to do so.

Chia Suan Chong
So, that's my plan, but, in the meantime, @sandymillin, @chiasuan and all the other truly amazing people who make up my PLN, please keep the tweets and posts coming - there's a whole world of us out here who really appreciate your sharing!!

Day 1 of IATEFL 2013 - interviews with key players

In my role as registered IATEFL blogger I am happy to record my thoughts on the first day of events in Liverpool from my desk 6,000 miles away in Binh Duong, Vietnam.

The conference proper doesn't actually get underway until today (April 9th), but yesterday saw several SIG (special interest groups) events, as well as a series of interviews with key players from the conference.  Some of the SIG sessions and all of the interviews were live streamed and my intention was to watch these online as they happened in order to experience as real a sense as I could of being 'at' the conference.  In the event, however, the technology let me down.  

I was hoping to follow the LTSIG (learning technologies) presentations and, after a few technical hitches in Liverpool, this seemed as if it would be perfectly possible.  I could 'see' some familiar faces in the room (@Marisa_C and @ShaunWilden to name but two) and 'chat' to others in the livestream chatbox.  I was enjoying the first presentation on CALL and Learner Autonomy by Huw Jarvis and was looking forward to the next on the flipped classroom when ...... my internet connection dropped out and the reality of living in a developing country hit me full in the face!  After a few short bursts of a very dodgy connection at too slow a speed to watch anything properly, I gave up.  I was surprised at just how disappointed I felt to be prevented from taking any further part in the live events.

This morning, with renewed resolve, I got up early to watch the recordings of yesterday's interviews before I went to work.  Doing so gave me a real sense of the conference ahead and some leads for further reading.

The first interview was with the presenters of IATEFL online who gave an overview of what was to come and advised the audience on how to get involved and keep up with the events in Liverpool.  This was very useful, although, I have to say the IATEFL online website is so clear and easily navigable that participants shouldn't have any difficulty in finding the relevant information for themselves.

Next up was Monika Knapkiewicz, a member of the online team who described her role as moderator of the online communication channels (Twitter, Facebook and forums) as 'the best job I've ever had' despite the fact that she spends most of the week shut in a tiny office!!  She described the buzz she gets from knowing that thousands of teachers around the world are using IATEFL online as part of their CPD, watching live sessions together with their colleagues or reviewing videos of presentations later.

Eric Baber
Outgoing IATEFL president Eric Baber was interviewed next.  He explained how he got the job and what the role involves.  He said that his greatest achievement as president has been to position IATEFL so successfully in online networks and that, contrary to what you might expect, providing stuff for free online seems to have increased membership rather than caused people not to bother joining.  IATEFL now has over 4000 members with 15 SIGS, the newest of these being MAWSIG (materials and writing) which is intended for anyone who's involved in creating materials (i.e. all teachers), not just professional coursebook writers.

Eric's interview was followed by one with the incoming IATEFL president Carol Read.  She has an idea to produce a history of IATEFL from the very first conference which had only 125 people and a flimsy eight-page leaflet to accompany proceedings.

Gavin Dudeney
Gavin Dudeney was next.  He talked about keeping people informed about IATEFL online, the aim being that first time visitors to the conference are better informed than they would otherwise have been.  Despite Gavin's online presence and his advocacy of technology (including the development of the IATEFL app), he said, 'There's nothing quite like having people in the same room drinking coffee together.  Five minutes face-to-face beats an hour online.'  

Gavin also previewed his own presentation which will take place during the last session before the closing plenary on Friday.  He will talk about digital literacies ahead of the publication of his new book written with Nicky Hockley and Mark Pegrum.

The next interview was with Tim Phillips, the British Council's Head of Teacher Development, who talked about the Teaching English website and its benefits for teachers throughout the world.  Through the site, teachers can access a range of free webinars and a wealth of other materials to help with their CPD. He talked about the development of 'a global community for a global profession'.

Deborah Healey from the University of Oregon was interviewed next.  She is visiting IATEFL for the first time as part of an exchange arrangement between IATEFL and TESOL.  She noted more similarities than differences between the two organisations.  She also talked about English language learning through playing computer games.

The penultimate interview of the day was with Kevan Cummins, the man in charge of the British Council's family of learner websites - for kids, for teens and for adults.  He told us that the Learn English Kids site gets over 1 million hits every month and that the new 'Grammar with Gran' feature is particularly popular.  The teen site uses lots of video material and also has a skills section which gives users handy exam tips.  Kevan explained that his main challenge now is to make the content of the sites work on mobile devices and to make them more intuitive for kids to use.  More and more youn learners are using tablets on their own rather than desktops with supervision.

The final interview was with Julian Wing and Martin Heineberg, two of the people responsible for maintaining the IATEFL online website.  Their goal is to provide a great conference experience for teachers who are unable to attend in person.  Online coverage began with the Aberdeen conference in 2007 and attracted a worldwide audience of about 3,500.  This contrasts sharply with last year when over 80,000 teachers took part.  This year promises to be even bigger.  As Julian said, 'This project democratises knowledge.  It gives access to people for whom international travel is impossible.'

I, for one, am grateful for the efforts of all those involved in making IATEFL accessible and am looking forward to following events during the rest of the week - technology permitting, of course!!