IATEFL 2020 – Global Get-Together, Day 2

The second day began with a thought-provoking talk by Catherine Walker. She spoke about the recent changes in education, about inclusivity and how synchronous lessons by their very nature exclude people with special needs or lower income (no devices, low bandwidth.) Asynchronous learning is more inclusive and allows us to support these categories of learners a lot more, so perhaps this is the way to go. ‘We do not support technology, technology should support us’ – can’t agree more. It’s interesting how some of the presenters truly practised what they preached – for example, Catherine described every picture on her slides to support the visually impaired (incidentally, it also helped me because I was listening and cooking :)).

Then I watched Alex Warren’s webinar, or rather, workshop. It was so engaging that I dropped my spoon and started taking part in the polls πŸ™‚ He spoke about using TED talks and offered a very workable model based on flipped learning. In short, after the learners have watched the talk at home, in the lesson the learners are asked to talk about what they remember, there is a quick comprehension check (Alex demonstrated how he uses Zoom tools for that), then there are critical thinking tasks, then creative assignments of various kinds (comment boxes on Padlet, ‘interview the speaker’, all kinds of written and spoken responses). One more important takeaway: if flipped learning doesn’t work very well for you because the learners don’t do their pre-lesson homework, stress the benefits of personalised learning they can get when they view the talk on their own. (They can slow down, use the subs, re-watch as many times as they like etc. )

Gareth Rees began his presentation with a photo of a urinal (!). The urinal was equipped with a video screen, so the idea was ATAW (viewing anytime, anywhere) – really memorable πŸ™‚ There were lots of interesting examples from his own experience and materials, techniques that fit into a neat model (DARE: description, analysis, reflection, evaluation) and useful recommendations. Teacher’s video selfies, students making videos of the teacher demonstrating a pron task, students’ video responses – the idea was that videos work best if they become almost unnoticed everyday practice.

I had to skip Adrian Underhill’s talk and part of Laura Edward’s presentation – looking forward to the recordings. A few ideas gleaned from Laura’s talk: invite guest speakers to online lessons, use chat for more informal feedback and backchanneling, use rubrics for peer assessment that students can copypaste into the chat.

Then there was the panel about sustainable online teaching and learning with representatives of several sigs, including Andy Hockley, the Coordinator of my own LAMSIG. There were a lot of interesting thoughts about how we can move to real, not emergency, online learning, and I really liked how Sophia Mavridi expressed hers: ‘After the emergency, experts need to come to the fore’. I totally agree: eventually we need to stop focusing on the tech tools and start thinking about pedagogy, instructional design and materials.

Another panel I watched, Moving to Teaching Online, focused on the practical side of teaching in this new reality. I was happy to hear how optimistic the participants were: like Andy Johnson said, ‘You should never waste a crisis’ πŸ™‚ Sandy Millin shared a lot of practical advice, especially useful for the teachers who are still learning to teach online; Joshua Underwood suggested that it would be useful to develop our (and our learners’) camera literacy: he recommended a webinar called ‘Own the screen’ or something like that, but I haven’t been able to find the link yet. In a nutshell, we need to learn how to be more comfortable standing up, moving around on Zoom, and teach our learners how to express themselves physically in the virtual environment. I also enjoyed the participants views of the future: Heike Philp suggested that one day, after we go back to our face-to–face teaching, we will start developing the online world again and create a rich online environment, maybe VR, 3D or something equally exciting. Sandy said that her school will probably move to a mix of online and f2f in September (this is what most of us expect, I think!); Andy expects a backlash with more physical teaching for some time, but then online teaching will be here to stay. Josh hopes that when we’ll go back to physical classrooms, we’ll improve them and make them more inclusive – and that generally things will get better. Hear, hear!

And then – too soon! — Gabriel Diaz Maggioli closed the event.


Now, I might be biased (and in case of IATEFL I most certainly am), but this was the greatest online event I’d ever watched. It was supposed to replace the physical conference, but it did a lot more: it engaged and supported a lot more teachers all over the world who had not been planning to come to Manchester. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still looking forward to Harrogate 2021, the organised chaos of the registration queue, lotteries, meetings, workshops and exhibitions, the friendly conversations with strangers and old friends at lunch or over a pint – but the Get-Together was totally worth it and I hope it will happen again, not to replace the conference, but to add to all the wonderful things that IATEFL does. Ahem, sorry πŸ™‚ Time to stop singing praises and get back to work!

IATEFL 2020 – Global Get-Together, Day 1

sustainable goals

What a great idea – have a series of online talks on the dates when the conference didn’t happen. I was chopping nuts and mixing veggies for the Easter lunch – and listening to David Crystal speaking about changes in English. It’s impossible to predict the future, he said, but at least we need to keep track of the changes: keep an eye on the corpora and social media, and reach out to the young generation. Kuhl. In fact, it felt like a real plenary – and the Adobe room was packed. (Another great idea, to have a Facebook live feed.)

I’ve attended as many talks as I could, and here are some highlights.

Tammy Gregersen inspired us to savour what we have (and when we say ‘I wish I could…’, write it down and put in a big jar for later). Also, “If you don’t want to focus on yourself for yourself, do it for your learners‘. A well-rested happy teacher is a good teacher!

I really liked the panel on Inclusive ELT materials, especially Alex Popovski’s presentation on ‘tokenism’ (do your research, avoid showcasing, reflect learners’ realities, create connections and have a sidekick – had to put down my kitchen knife and write all of this down!).

Carol Read did an amazing workshop on the UN’s sustainable development goals, with a very good balance of information and interactivity.Β (The picture for this post covers two of the 17 goals.) From concepts to activities, from graphic organisers to student work, the session was really well-planned, varied and real enough to satisfy any practising teacher. If there’s any webinar that could be made available to the public, this should be the one.Β Β 

The panel about thinking outside the box was interesting because I could find out what the other SIGs are doing! That’s one advantage of the online event: you don’t have to choose between several exciting sessions because there’s only one at any given time πŸ™‚

Looking forward to the next day.

My 5 years of IATEFL

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s this time of the year again! April, the UK, the global IATEFL conference… Not this year, sadly, but I couldn’t resist the nostalgic pull today.


The 50th anniversary conference in Birmingham, which started the whole romance with IATEFL for me: I got a scholarship from LAMSIG to attend and speak about change management. Also, I met a lot of wonderful people and got to see the towers that inspired J.R.R.Tolkien – and went punting in Cambridge.birmingham



Glasgow, where I spoke about Team LDP and got to see a bit of Scotland. And then there was the Edinburgh castle, Loch Lomond and the misty Highlands…




Brighton and the South Coast with the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters. I spoke about language support for NNSTs and developed a taste for local ales.


Seven sisters


Liverpool started with the lovely York for me, and then I got to speak twice: about restructuring a management team and about the Purple Pen of Progress. A steam train trip through North Wales, the Conwy Castle and this wonderful sea smell in the air that you can only feel in my favourite country in April.



To be continued next year, I hope! For now, let’s meet up online this weekend πŸ™‚

A coronadictionary to enjoy in our isocosm


Have you seen these amazing posts by Tony Thorne?Β The author has collected dozens of new coinages and repurposed lexis that people started using during the Covid-19 crisis. The first post in the series (#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral) mostly deals with scientific terms like ‘flatten the curve’ or ‘shelter in place’ that suddenly became very popular in our conversations. The second (#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2) veers in the direction of slang and colloquialisms, and what a treasure trove it is: from coronanoia to covid waltz, quarantrolls and zoom mullet and even new emojis – it’s all there. A great collection to read on your own or share with friends, but I believe it can also have teaching uses. My lower secondaries are particularly keen on discussing the virus, so bits and pieces from these posts could be a great CLIL warmup. Advanced adults will probably appreciate the humour in some of the slangier expressions. If you have more ideas, let me know πŸ™‚

If the Internet is slow


Matt Miller from Ditch That Textbook wrote an interesting post about helping learners with poor Internet access. While a lot of the tips are geared at asynchronous learning, some of his advice can be very useful in our Zoom era! For example, I never thought to decrease my camera resolution; also, Matt makes it particularly clear that instructions should be boarded, not just said out loud.

Do you have any other tips?

Agony Aunt materials


While prepping for another lesson yesterday, I stumbled upon this great resource: Tim Warre shares his lesson plan based on the Agony Aunt idea (and a lot of other lesson materials). Why is it good? First and foremost, there is a lot of attention to functional language. In the virtual classroom, you can simply direct the learners to this page and have them pick the phrases they would like to use – a great timesaver for all. Also, Tim included aΒ  short lesson description, and, last but not least, two printable handouts: with the functional phrases and with ‘agony aunt’ situations (just make sure you adapt them before using in the teen classroom). It’s rare when somebody else’s lesson plan is so clear and usable.

Tim’s posts stop in February,Β  so I hope he’ll come back soon!

Neurolinguistics or neuro-something


Have you seen this polemical post by Russ Mayne from Evidence Based EFL? He writes about neurolinguistics in language teaching and warns against using it lightly: in fact, the whole line of argument expresses his doubts about the new ‘neuro’ fad. While neurolinguistics, he writes, can offer useful scientific insights, overly zealous or superficial attempts to connect it to education could be really misleading. He even remembers the NLP times – hilarious!

An interesting read, and something to share with colleagues if you feel they are veering too far ‘to the dark side of the force’. That said, I know a few people who use ideas from neurolinguistics quite successfully in their teaching and teacher training – and yet doubt we must.

The Periodic Table of books


If you’re into reading books rather than articles (or you suddenly have a bit more time on your hands), check out this amazing resource compiled by Mark Anderson: a topical collection of contemporary titles on different aspects of education, from general education to literacy to leadership to modern classics. There may be an interactive version in future, but even this list is very helpful. I was pleasantly surprised to see Simon Sinek’s ‘Find your why’ there – that’s a great idea for lesson planning, by the way!

Online, physically


Many of my young learners spend hours in front of the screen for their school lessons, talking to friends,Β  and let’s face it, playing games. Adult learners have their own remote work with meetings and endless emails. So, by the time they log into my lessons, their eyes are a bit glazed over.

If you’re facing similar issues, don’t miss Olga Stolbova’s recent guest post on Sandy Millin’s blog. Olga writes about sending students to check the fridge, collect photos of different objects in the flat, describing what they see through the window and a few other activities. It’s a good start, but I feel that over the next weeks we’ll all need a lot more ideas on how to make our virtual lessons more physical.

I often ask learners to look through the window, use gestures, nominate each other by throwing an imaginary ball or other object, show their favourite objects (if appropriate). I also let them switch off their camera once in a while when they’re reading or writing, just to help them relax. What’s your favourite technique?

Activities against apps


If you’ve just started teaching online, you’re probably inundated with information about hundreds of new apps to try out: interactive game platforms, whiteboards, blackboards, meters, shmeters…. πŸ™‚ It’s all good and well when used in moderation, but don’t you think our learners already have too much on their virtual plates? To balance the digital, I like to give more attention to what we can do with what we already have – think exploiting a picture, doing a web tour, using the chat. It”s hard to find such low-tech activities in the edutech world, so make sure you bookmark, or even better, download this free collection from Delta Publishing: excerpts from the fantastic book Teaching Online by Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield. I’m going to experiment with their version of Find Someone Who next, and you?

P.S. Did you know I had a series of posts where I was exploring online teaching long before it became the only way to teach? The series begins here.