Attending conferences as part of continuous professional development
One of the ways to develop as teachers is to do some teacher training courses and attend conferences. I am a great fan of face-to-face trainings myself and I believe that we can learn from our peers and build up a set of useful teaching techniques by attending in-house trainings, courses moderated by the university of Cambridge or International House like CELTA, DELTA, IHCYLT and many others, and attending events like IATEFL or local conferences.
IATEFL is an international association of English language teachers and it is also an annual UK-based event where teachers can meet, participate in various workshops and be exposed to many fascinating presentations by English language teaching professionals from all over the world.
Giving a presentation at IATEFL 2018
Last year I went to Brighton to talk about how to motivate young learners. I found it really rewarding to see a room full of people interested in my topic and taking an active part in our discussion, however, I must admit it was a challenging and nerve-wrecking experience.
If you are interested in the topic of my talk, here is a link to the blog post I created:
I also presented at another conference with the same talk so you can listen to that presentation here:
My attitude was serious and I wanted to make the most of that experience so I attended a great deal of presentations related to teaching young learners and I even joined Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group. The most memorable were the talks by Annamaria Pinter talking about Children’s rights, how to ensure active participation and help young learners make conscious decisions about their learning; and by Carol Read talking about Sustainable Development Goals. Although I attended a lot of interesting presentations, the most enjoyable bit is always about meeting interesting people, talking to inspiring colleagues and sharing ideas. For example, the highlight of the SIG event was seeing Carol sitting next to me, being able to chat to her and thank her for sharing her ideas.
This year I enjoyed the conference a lot more just because I didn’t have to give a presentation myself and therefore trying to concentrate on one area so I was free to choose the topics. There were a great variety of talks but some topics were more pronounced than others, for example, teacher empowerment, technology in ELT and soft skills development. I like the way Andreza Lago summarised her impression of this event.
The most beneficial bit is when you can reflect on your experience right away. That is why I took notes, created some facebook posts with short summaries and I am going to summarise some of the talks here.
‘How to…’ sessions
Sandy Millin gave a talk on how to give a presentation at an international conference. She said that this can be a stressful experience. I totally agree. Last year I really panicked on the day I had to give a talk at IATEFL so I spent a few hours in my hotel room to calm down and organize myself before delivering a speech in front of many great teachers and even experts including some celebrities like Carol Read.
Sandy gave some tips on how to make a presentation a more satisfying experience both for the speaker and the audience. Some of her ideas include recommendation on what to keep in mind at the planning stage. For example, choosing the topic you care about, brainstorming ideas, calculating timing and using a consistent slide layout. She also suggested including some theory and something practical, which makes a lot of sense to me.
It is also worth rehearsing, visiting the room you are going to present in and chat to a few people who came to listen to you. During the presentation it’s important to keep an eye on everybody, breath in between sentences and allow processing time. Sandy also recommended taking some time to reflect on that experience after the talk, apart from going to chill out, which is also a must. Here is Sandy’s post.
Advanced teaching skills
Tanya Polovinkina, a colleague of mine, gave a fantastic presentation on advanced teaching skills, which is actually a combination of familiar ingredients, in her opinion. Tanya said that professional development is not a linear process and highlighted the importance of questioning your decisions when planning and delivering your individual lessons. Teachers can become experts if they are consistently and consciously involved in activities like reading, sharing ideas with peers, evaluating materials and self-reflection.
In spite of the fact that I have already seen the slides and listened to Tanya when she had rehearsed, I really enjoyed the presentation, which was not only interesting and well-planned but because of Tanya’ charisma and the way she communicated her ideas and responded naturally to the audience’s contributions.
Teaching Young Learners
Anka Zapart shared her experience of working with very young learners at BKC IH Moscow. She suggested using a DIY approach to teaching very young learners. She analysed some of her young learners’ communication strategies and presented her findings. She said that her kids used several strategies to get their message across. For example, she mentioned translation and code-switching as the most frequently used strategies. The kids also used all purpose words, asked for help, self-repair and miming.
Anka summarized the results of her study and drew conclusions. In Anka’s view, teaching very young learners is not just babysitting or playing with them, we need to see it as second language acquisition on the carpet. This means that teachers have to keep in mind some techniques like supplying the learners with functional language and using visual aids, that may well help their learners use their imagination, express themselves and become active learners.
Jo Gakonga invited us to think about our professional development. She talked about some aspects related to how trainers can support TT course participants and benefits of promoting reflection on teaching experience. If you want to find out more, join her free course at elt-training.com.
Developing thinking skills
Carol Read had an inspiring talk about promoting high-quality thinking in the early years. I love Carol’s manner and her passion about promoting creative and critical thinking. She said that we often underestimate young learner abilities and suggested calling low order of thinking skills ‘key active thinking’ skills as those skills are hugely important.
Carol didn’t give any ready-made recipes as all learners are different but listed some principles we can rely on when working with young learners. These are social and emotional learning, learning to cooperate, thinking time and language support and developing values.
Piers Messum made an attempt to clarify the concept of “teachable moments”. He suggested differentiating between “expression” and “communication”. The former is “ a big deal” whereas getting the message across might not be sufficient. In his opinion, learners want to be able to express themselves better, not only to communicate the message. Therefore, it is vitally important to make use of the moments when teachers can help students notice how language works as this can lead to so called “deep” learning.
This is not the first time I attend Mark Hancock’s presentations. He says that we can see pronunciation work as part language and part skill, both receptive and productive. He demonstrated a few great activities that facilitate understanding of how articulates work, help learners remember important rules and notice some discrepancies between pronunciation and spelling. Here is a link to his website.
Students may ask their teacher a variety of questions and there is obviously nothing wrong about that. In fact, they are a sign of engagement curiosity and good learning strategies. Scott Thornbury highlighted some questions that students may ask and some ways to respond to them. He believes that there is rarely one right answer to a grammar question and that teachers should encourage student-initiated questions and respond to them accordingly.
Using Positive Language
Masha Molashenko, another colleague of mine, delivered a workshop on using positive language to make communication more effective, praise and empower students and peers. She invited the audience to consider how words can either interrupt the mental processes or facilitate language processing and communication. She gave some tips on which power words to use when giving instructions or feedback. Masha also recommended praising students efforts and specific achievements rather than their intelligence.
Something Old and Something New
Old and new information are fundamental aspects of English, which David Connolly talked about in his presentation. He showed some examples of determiners and articles in particular, which he believes can be seen as linking devices introducing old and new information.
He argued that present perfect simple is used to introduce new information and it should be called ‘indefinite past’, whereas past simple refers to ‘definite past’. He gave some examples with the passive voice and looked at some discourse features beyond the sentence.
He concluded by saying that we need to teach our learners how to make texts coherent and cohesive by highlighting how determiners work and how to use other features of discourse instead of just trying to connect ideas using some basic linking devices.
Personalization generally helps motivate learners as they might be invited to share their experience, knowledge or feelings. It can also help memory and maintain a positive classroom atmosphere.
John Hughes encourages teachers to personalize the task instead of personalizing the topic as some topics are relatively impersonal by default. He gave several useful tips for those who want to find new ways to personalize such as giving choice, modeling personalization and promoting creative thinking.
Technology in ELT
Do we still need teachers or robots are coming for our jobs? Lindsay Clandfield gave a talk on some stories and the language of education technology. He examined some words related to digital education and the stories that surround these words. He mentioned such words as gamification, personalization and interactive.
It seems to be true that the way we talk about education technology is likely to affect the way we use it. Lindsay concluded that teachers need to be realistic about technology, it’s potential and offer a balanced approach to teaching to enhance learning.
Professional Development for EMT
Olga Connolly, who is the Director of Studies at BKC IH Moscow, gave a presentation about systematic professional development for senior educational staff, who are a group of professionals varying in experience, needs, expertise and personality.
Olga talked about her experience of working with the Educational Management Team as the Director of Studies. She outlined the existing CPD scheme at BKC IH Moscow and two development strands that have been created to strengthen team spirit and cooperation for the benefit of the school.
She gave some specific examples of goals and tasks to meet individual needs and highlighted developing reflection as an important component of professional development. Olga reported the results of the project with the analysis of the effectiveness of the scheme. Finally, she invited the audience to discuss the relevance of the programme to a wider context.
What is postmethod teaching like? Alan Pulverness revisited the concept focusing on parameters like particularity, practicality and possibility. He referred to Kumaravadivelu’s five myths of method and commented on the idea of principled eclecticism.
Small talk is one of the cultural features of English communication. Tatiana Golechkova, an experienced DELTA-qualified teacher, talked about how to break small talk into easy to teach sub-skills that are necessary for both the speaker and the listener, presented possible topics for discussion and shared some ideas that can help students start and finish a conversation with a stranger.