The IATEFL conference is over for another year. In passing someone commented that at this year’s conference they hadn’t seen a bad presentation and I was obliged to agree. Despite the most strategically-selected lineup of sessions, every year there’s always one or two talks so bad I have to slink out of. But this year, everything I saw ranged from good to great.
The social side of IATEFL is one of the most fulfilling aspects of the conference. But seeing friends and acquaintances, meeting up with Twitter contacts in IRL, randomly starting conversations with teachers from around the world at the nightly events and receptions leaves little time for blogging. Now that I’m home I can put together a rundown of a select few of the presentations I saw this year:
Plenary Session: Donald Freeman
In his presentation Freeman urged us to “unthaw” our sometimes “frozen” thinking via unpacking three big myths of ELT. The myth of direct causality ( that teaching causes learning), the myth of sole responsibility, that the teacher is solely responsible for making learning happen in the classroom, and the myth of a singular, monolithic proficiency as a goal of language learning. He had a lot of interesting anecdotes and examples for each of these points, but what I liked most is that overarching idea that there are myths in our profession that have to be recognized and questioned.
Alex Thorp: Re-thinking Assessment Roles and Potential
This talk dealt with the concept of constructive alignment and how important it is that there be coherence between assessment type, learning outcomes, and classroom teaching and learning activities. This was nothing new or revolutionary, but an engaging reminder of this concept just the same.
Adrian Underhill: Jazz and the Dark Matter of English Language Teaching
In this presentation, Underhill drew parallels between the improvisation done in theatre and jazz that which happens in the classroom. I have dabbled in jazz and theatre in past lives, and so I found this parallel spot on. But in teaching, like in jazz and on stage, improvisation and indeed be “dark matter”–hard to pin down, though you know good improv when you see it.
David Read and Will Nash: Through the Looking Glass: Creating a video-Ready Classroom
This presentation focused on a variety of learning technologies they’ve researched and tested out in their classroom at the University of Sheffield. The coolest thing was something called Swivl, a kind of robotic swivelling tripod that culd be used to film classes for teacher evaluations, teacher training or distance learning.
Marion Crandall: Fairness as a Consideration in Test Items
This was a great session which dealt with cognitive, emotional and physical fairness in creating assessments; very useful parameters to keep in mind but that often get forgotten. A wonderfully structured and delivered presenation.
Tyson Seburn: Academic Reading Circles
Academic Reading Circles are an EAP adaptation of the types of reading circles common with fiction where groups read the the same text and take on different to roles to work on an work out the text together. I think I’m going to include these in a PD session for our staff I’m running in a few weeks and see if it’s something they’d like to experiment with in our EAP program.
Ermina Tuzovic: Walk Before your Run: Reading Strategies for Arabic Learners
I loved this presentation. Grounded in psycholinguistic theory, it was an fascinating explanation of some of the unique difficulties Arabic L1 learners have with reading in English, as especially skimming and scanning. It was such a great balance of theory and lots of practical tips. I hope to present it to our staff, as it was very enlightening, as we have a lot of students whose L1 is Arabic.
Edward de Chazal: The Difference is Academic
Through a language-driven analysis, de Chazal showed us that academic English is really about nouns and noun phrases, whereas most traditional coursebooks and grammar books revolve around the verb and he showed us how his new EAP book targets the noun.
Pilar Aramayo Prodencio: Language Policy in Mexico
A neat talk that got much more into concepts of policy that I was expecting, but which was nonetheless a very interesting look into the role of English in educational policy in Mexico.
Russ Mayne and Nicola Prentis: Where are the women in ELT?
Despite the fact that the majority of English teachers are women, the majority of the invited plenary speakers at ELT conferences are men, and in this talk they delved into some of the reasons why: the domination of plenary spots by a select few big coursebook authors of a certain age, and the vicious cycle of visibility (those select few present frequently, and then people are more likely to request to see them). There was an interesting discussion after the presentation, too, which brought up the role big publishing houses play in maintaining this gender imbalance.
Katheleen Graves: Addressing Mismatches between Classroom Context and Coursebook
I loved Kathleen Graves’ keynote at last year’s IATEFL, and so when I saw her name on the program, I knew I had to try to catch it. In this talk, she and co-presenter Sue Garton presented a few cases from a new book, International Perspectives on Materials in ELT. Though it’s always horrifying to see how teachers and students in so many contexts are mandated to use coursebooks that are culturally, pedagogically or linguistically inappropriate, these were tales of resistance, adaptation and the eternal creativity of educators around the world.
David Crystal Question and Answer Session
David Crystal is also a speaker who I was lucky enough to see at past IATEFLs. He’s a man after my own heart: a linguist with a fascination for language in use. In this year’s session he took pre-submitted questions relating to all aspects of sociolinguistic variation and language change. Language in use is an aspect of language teaching that I think is crucial, and doesn’t get enough discussion at ELT conferences. At one point he talked about the “You Say Potato” book and pronunciation map he’s been working on with his son. Warning: you will lose hours on this site…