‘How did you like the plenaries this year?’ asked a colleague I’d met in Glasgow in 2017.
I hesitated and didn’t answer at first.
Did I like the plenaries?
Plenary sessions are tough. If you make them too practical, they won’t be relevant for half of the audience. If they are too far removed from ELT, the other half will say that they have wasted their time. If they are done by ‘luminaries’, someone will come forward and say that there are no new voices, or no equal representation.
So – no, I didn’t like some of the plenaries, but I enjoyed the others. And, whatever my personal preference, I really liked the choices that the organisers had made.
1. What is SLA research good for, anyway? / Plenary session by Lourdes Ortega
Is there any tension between ELT practitioners (teachers) and researchers (linguists)? If there is, we need to learn to work together: linguists can make their research more accessible, and practitioners can accept that knowledge is contradictory and conclusions are never finite. Lourdes mentioned several myths that had been discredited by research but are still popular in ELT:
1) Less L1 in the classroom does not mean better L2; it’s actually the other way round
2) Earlier is NOT better
3) Error correction… wait, the jury’s still out on this one.
Something to think about.
2. Sausage and the law: how textbooks are made / Plenary session by Dorothy Zemach
I had to watch this session online because my own talk was scheduled immediately after it, and I am glad I found the time. Dorothy made it clear why so much seems wrong about materials writing and publishing, and at the same time remained very supportive of coursebooks. If we want to have better materials, we need to examine and compare them and speak openly to the publishers. And of course not to pirate copyrighted materials.
And yes, books should be written by professionals.
3. Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalised women/ Brita Fernandez Schmidt
Brita’s session was unusual and very touching. It was about the power of education and human kindness, her organisation called Women for Women, and other things which she described much better than could ever be done in a blog.
4. Living to tell the tale: a history of language testing / Plenary session by Barry O’Sullivan
A fantastic journey into the past of IELTS, the Main Suite and other beautiful instruments of torture for poor candidates. Here are two ideas that I’d like to re-post:
1) The future of testing is tech-driven, localised and personalised (not global!)
2) A test is a snapshot, so is always slightly out of focus. If possible, we need to use other kinds of evidence to supplement it.
5. Mugging de Queen’s English / Plenary session by John Agard
This was a fun show by a poet who had decided for some reason that we are all primary teachers, and even said so. We didn’t mind because his poems were great anyway. More literary readings, please! (I really recommend watching his recitals, e.g. here or here.)