IATEFL Liverpool: Day 1

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David Crystal Plenary (available online here.)
Sometimes a talk may leave you contemplating something tangential or not related at all to its main focus. David Crystal’s plenary session was, for me, an example of this. He dealt with the idea of blends, or the non-standard grammar “mistakes” that emerge in speech and are part of a descriptive, as opposed to prescriptive approach to grammar.


His talk was linguistic in nature as opposed to being specifically about teaching, but one take-home for me was a point he briefly touched on regarding the role of cognition in language processing. He gave a few instances of example sentences used to teach relative clauses from an ESL grammar book, but contrasted their front-loaded structure with real-speech examples, which tend to be end-weighted in terms of information. This particular example drove home the point for me that cognition can play a very important role in the classroom, yet we often ignore it. The way a task or exercises is structured can have a huge effect on a learner’s ability to deal with new language; bad task design can make it seem like a student is not yet able to use a certain language item, when in fact their brain is simply overloaded. It’s something to bear in mind when designing classroom activities as well as assessments.

Session 1.1: How to Demand High. Presenter: Jim Scrivener. (Available online here. )
I’ve recently come across the Demand High blogs and really connect with this “movement” as a way for experienced teachers to revitalize their practice, as well as for newer teachers to pus their teaching to the next level. I have often recommended it in the post-staff evaluation sessions I give. Jim Scrivener’s talk wasn’t a detailed discussion of Demand High, but rather an example of how to put it into practice.
Session 1.2: Designing materials for mobile language learning.Presnter: Mark Osborne
This was an interesting overview to mobile app design, and while not detailed enough to enlighten an experienced designer, it was perfectly pitched toward an ELT teacher or professional with interest in the area. Live Code was identified as an accessible tool for beginning app designers, and activity theory was the main framework through which he approaches app design. One interesting point was his characterization of the teacher as a “curator” of digital apps and tools for their students; this is definitely a role I identify with.


He posed some interesting questions as to how the ELT app scene in general could be improved. As in DAvid Crystal’s plenary, the issue of cognition in ELT came up, as he wondered if the latest research into leaning and memory being taken into account in app design. He also mentioned the trend toward “casual” apps: not whole language courses, but app centred around very focused activities. He urged ELT app designers look to non-ELT apps for inspiration and ideas for good design.

Session 1.3: Written observation reports – one size fits all? Presenter: Joanna Ridd 

While this session focused on a few very specific examples from International House’s staff observation forms and processes, I found it provided some interesting food for thought as to the importance of positive wording on the form (“Areas for professional Development” as opposed to “Areas for Improvement”, etc.), the need for clear points of action with dates for review, and teachers’ preference for clearly worded bullet points as opposed to feedback delivered in prose paragraphs.


Session 1.6: Teaching through the looking glass. Presenter: Adrian Tennant 

This was a next approach to identifying different teaching styles as characterized by the characters from Alice in Wonderland: White rabbit, Dodo, Caterpillar, Cheshire cat, Mock turtle, etc. While the concept was in the end more gimmicky than useful, it did set me thinking about different teacher “profiles”. I think after working in a few different contexts with lots of different types of teachers  you see certain patterns repeat themselves: the jaded uninspired veteran teacher, the cocky ex-pat, the keen, yet unknowledgeable newbie. I think these roles come into play as you manage staff or interact with colleagues; the questions is, how to best take advantage of this idea of teacher “types” in managing staff?


Session 1.7: Demystifying EAP (a bit) – an induction session for pre-sessional programmes. Presenters:Louise Pullen & Susie Cowley-Haselden 

A very useful session for anyone overseeing an EAP program (which I do), dealing with the issue of getting instructors with an extensive EFL/ESL background, but who are who are relative newcomers to EAP up to snuff on the terminology, practices and overall philosophy of English for Academic Purposes. They gave lots of ideas for activities from an induction session they run at the University of Leicester that I am looking forward to trying out.  One of the presenters has a blog on EAP, which I’m looking forward to checking out.

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