My IATEFL 2018 Highlights (1 of 6): Teaching

IATEFL welcome

Alright, I have finally put together my experience of this year’s IATEFL. A six-day cycle begins!

1. Teaching
2. Leadership and management
3. Professional development
4. Non-native/native speaker issues
5. Plenaries
6. General impressions

I’ll be giving highlights in the blog posts, but you can find complete accounts with slides (and more of my rambling comments) in my OneNote database.  It’s a living document and everything (except teaching) is still being updated.

I mostly focused on academic management, but managed to squeeze in a few sessions on methodology: sometimes to support friends, sometimes to explore a new idea. That is why the topics come from very different areas.

So, in no order of preference:

1. Hyper polyglots: what can they teach us? / Scott Thornbury


Scott Thornbury spoke about very successful language learners and what we can learn from them as students and as teachers. Very useful for student counselling and developing learner autonomy!
The advice for teachers is to help students have concrete goals, give them a variety of teaching strategies, provide opportunities for communication and help them build an L2 self (this is definitely something to explore).
It’s interesting how old and new methods combine to help the learners achieve their goals: exposure and focus on fluency, as well as memorisation, spaced repetition, rote learning and apps… If it works, it works!

2. Generating a gender-free growth mindset in the classroom / Sophie Handy


Sophie’s talk seemed to answer one of Scott Thornbury’s questions: so is it about aptitude after all? The research she did with her teenage students was aimed at gender-based stereotypes: do boys and girls see themselves and their potential differently? How can we as teachers help them believe in themselves and achieve better learning? I think I’ll try to replicate this research and see how I can make my classroom more of a learning zone than a performance zone.

3. The Disney creativity strategy in the Business English context / Marjorie Rosenberg


Marjorie Rosenberg introduced a very simple but effective idea that could be used in Business English lessons, or in fact in any lessons with more or less mature students – and even in business meetings. (What does Walt Disney have to do with it? Well, he was known to play each of these roles with his subordinates, and they never knew what he was going to be next – interesting fact). Apparently, all of us play the role of a dreamer, realist or critic, and acknowledging these roles overtly can bring a lot of benefits. In the practical part, I happily channelled my inner critic! It seems that I need more work done on my business communication skills.

4. Best practice for blended learning: approaches and outcomes / Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett


This session was all about course planning, with lots of practical and sensible advice. All of it is in their book, and I really recommend checking out Pete Sharma’s website. I had a lot of my questions answered and thoughts confirmed: e.g. why online courses tend to have such a high drop-out rate (lack of human interaction), ratio of f2f and online activities in a blended course depends on context and goals, but the classical number is 50/50. It’s funny but the presentation on blended learning was the only one that had paper handouts!

5. Signposting lesson aims and activities / Alina Promska & Liudmyla Konoplenko


Fresh, energetic and ruthlessly well-structured – what else can I say? Was really happy to see the teachers from my teaching centre present. They signposted their own session (yes, practise what you preach) and demonstrated a lot of useful principles and activities to talk to students about the lesson structure and activity aims. Well done!

6. We have ways of making you talk better / Stephen Reilly


This session inspired me (and some other people I know) to start recording lessons again. I did try making videos of my lessons, which was a painful but very useful experience. Audio is much less of a distraction because you don’t have to think about your hair or clothes! Stephen presented discourse analysis tools that can be used to look at one’s TTT (watch out for those pesky verbal tics) and gave useful advice about the technical side of things. And yes, this analysis should result in a realistic action plan.




The sunny side of the Hawthorne effect


Another term that emerged in IATEFL discussions, the Hawthorne effect, is given new life in Larry Ferlazzo’s blog. He refers to an article by Joanne Yatvin called ‘Letting teachers re-invent their own wheel’, but I recommend reading Larry’s post first: he explains his success in the classroom by the fact that his students are aware of his research and of being observed as part of his research. I think it’s a great way to look at the observer effect and maybe even exploit it – what do you think?

Ego permeability


Another term that has been haunting me since IATEFL: ‘ego permeability’ as an affective factor of successful language learning (from Scott Thornbury’s talk about hyper polyglots). The Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics defines it as “the ease with which new experiences, cultural features or perceptions of other people may pass the defences of one’s personality”. A quick Google search yields quite a few books and scholarly articles, but I haven’t found any practising EFL teachers writing about it. Can this idea be used to motivate adult learners? Or explain to them the essence of the communicative approach? An idea for someone’s future post, perhaps!

However, it would not be a blog of curated resources if I didn’t leave you with something to read. Here is an article by none other than Ruth Wajnryb about the arguably lower ego permeability of the English language and how it helped it become Globish.  It’s a long read, but definitely worth it!

How is your sense of plausibility today?


In his IATEFL presentation, Alan Maley proposed that teachers’ individual ‘senses of plausibility’ should be incorporated into training. As it turns out, the term was coined by Prabhu to describe our teaching common sense: less routine, less ‘method’ and more learning. This blog post by Marie-Therese le Roux sums the idea up quite nicely; so does Anthony Schmidt’s research ‘bite’. In short, if we keep learning and developing as teachers, our sense of plausibility is fresh and not “buried or frozen or ossified”, in Prabhu’s own words. Sounds like a great proposal to me!

One man’s burger is another man’s sandwich


An interesting article by Chia Suan Chong about intercultural communication (really sorry I missed her talk at IATEFL!). The rise of English as lingua franca creates new opportunities for misunderstandings because the language does not carry all the cultural baggage with it. You can read on about business negotiations and giving feedback to employees (the famous ‘sandwich’ or ‘hamburger’ technique and how it works in Germany and Japan), and then ask yourselves how international communication is going to evolve.

“…would the target culture (i.e. American/British) become prevalent, or even forced upon the discourse styles and rhetorical conventions of the global business world too?Or would the target culture, just like the target language, be adapted and morphed into one that works for all interlocutors involved?” 

Whatever happens in future, at least we are talking about our differences. Just like in Ursula le Guin’s novels, naming something gives you magical power over it – right?




Bounce and re-bounce

Inspired by IATEFL, I have decided to find out more about PPPB (which, as it turns out, is part of AfL – yes, we do love our abbreviations!). It is a catchy title for a simple student questioning technique: Pose-Pause-Pounce-Bounce, and you can read about it here (for a concise description), or here (for an enthusiastic and heartfelt one). And if you would like to know how to scaffold the ‘Bounce’ stage, here is a poster with ideas.

P.S. All these bouncing and pouncing Tiggers made me think of an old Pixar short. A must-see!

Presentations, there and back again


When was the last time you reflected on your presentation skills? Here is a short quiz at Mind Tools to help open that Johari window (or shake a pane or two at the very least). For example, there is a question about focusing on the main part of the presentation that made me think of some top-heavy lessons I’ve seen where the warm-up takes more than thirty minutes, leaving very little time for input and practice. Guilty as charged!

For more advice on presentations, check out this wonderfully recursive post about TED talks on how to give TED talks.

IATEFL, from Tuesday to Friday

By my calculations, by the end of Friday I will have attended 6 presentations each day. It is rather exhausting, but I’m keeping notes and will hopefully compile them all in one doc by the end of the week.

It seems that the major strands this year are related to general issues of teacher professional development,  equality in the workplace and in the world and English for academic purposes. Technology is seen as less of a novelty and more as just one of the tools alongside traditional materials, but paper handouts are much more rare. And, as before, it is painful to choose between several exciting events happening at once!

If you’re not here but would like to keep up, IATEFL Online has published a few sessions; the Cambridge website is offering some more, and there may be a few personal uploads on YouTube. Do let me know in the comments if you find anything else.

My presentation on language support for NNSTs at IATEFL 2018


My presentation this year started the LAM SIG day, and I think the choice itself says a lot about all the positive changes that have been happening in ELT. We are openly talking about the native/non-native issue, we are looking for ways to achieve equal opportunities for all, and we are approaching this from different directions. I mostly focused on academic management and in-service training for experienced and proficient teachers, and I was glad to see how relevant this is to many other colleagues. Let’s keep talking! My slides can be downloaded from here.

A few more thoughts as a follow-up:

  1. Yes, I believe that a similar language support group could be set up at schools with a bigger percentage of NSTs, but it will have to be modified, perhaps with a stronger focus on teaching skills, or on deep language analysis.
  2. I use an English version of my name because I was able to choose an easy name for my foreign passport. But I keep it because it shows that I’m functionally bilingual and use English in most professional contexts – and I just like the way it sounds!
  3. Too many pictures can be distracting; and I need to practise speaking with a mike!