The event happened on 1 March, and I was very happy to be one of the speaker experts. There were more than 400 English language teachers from all over Ukraine!
The opening ceremony
I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few of them in my own session, where I spoke about my favourite hobby horse – the sense of progress! You can download the presentation slides here.
Ready for the session
Just like any conference, this one tempted me with several interesting workshops at the same time. I finally chose Anne Robinson’s, about Support, Challenge and Choice in the secondary and adult classroom. It was quite an interesting session, with a range of activities to do around an exam-type text: from rehearsing to choosing photos as illustrations, and webapps. The text she chose was about planting trees, and she compared the kids who planted the trees in the story to cathedral builders who never used to see their finished work. Isn’t it the same with everyone working in education?
Two sections of the day were given to the participants to suggest and then present their own topics, and I got to see two of those. So much enthusiasm, so much enjoyment in their work! And my own audience was the same: warm, responsive, enthusiastic and interested. During the questions part, the teachers got up and started writing their tips to each other on the board. How cool is that?
And I bought myself a great book about personal effectiveness. Perhaps I’ll write about it on my blog (once I become more effective, that is!).
Don’t we all like a good metaphor? Stevick can come up with quite a few. For example, to explain how short-term and long-term memory works, he uses the image of stencils lying on a small worktable (this is short-term memory). As new stencils are added, the older ones fall off the table on the floor. So, if you need to keep any of them for a bit longer, you need to attach them to the wall, for example, by rubbing them so that they are charged with static electricity (this is a metaphor for long-term memory). But if we keep charging them, they will stay for longer. However, if we want to hold them on the wall forever, we need to spray them with paint before they fall off. However, paint will keep just fragments and images of them, which is how our permanent memory actually works.
Sounds like a very useful way to teach students how to learn, do you agree?
When Stevick writes about communicative and linguistic competence as the learner’s goal, there are no surprises: we all know that the students need to know what to say and how to say it. However, there is also a third competence, which he calls ‘personal’ and lists several levels to it:
1) mastering techniques like using flash cards or making vocabulary notes (just another name for ‘learning how to learn’ skills, isn’t it?);
2) knowing which techniques work specifically for you (learner self-reflection?);
3) understanding the process of mastering a new technique (this is a bit vague for me, but it’s close to reflection and metacognitive processes);
4) knowing how to deal with emotions as they arise in the process of education (EQ?).
So, how does the teacher go about developing all these competencies? Give the students enough different options for (1); allow them to experiment for (2); comment on their progress, but don’t “talk it to death” for (3) and modify their teaching to deal with negative emotions, but remember that “you are dealing with a group of other humans who may be quite unlike each other” to help with (4).
Funny how people used to speak about the same things in ELT even 40 years ago!
Here is another voice speaking against the 10,000 hour rule (I linked to an interesting article by James Clear about deliberate practice some time ago): this time it’s about varied, spaced and interleaved practice. Yes, I know it’s all very unscientific, but this article (or rather, excerpt from a book by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel called Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning) can be a great conversation starter in an English lesson with higher levels to develop learner autonomy, or in a teacher training session. To me, it’s a serviceable explanation of why some things work and some don’t: why cramming and drilling give limited results, why revision of several units seems more effective than looking back on just one. Anyway, do check it out and let me know what you think!
Here is an inspiring post by Alastair Lane about writing ‘gamebooks’, or ‘choose your own adventure’ stories for language learners. Much as I love reading, I have never been a fan of those books: I just want to focus on one storyline and one world that the author has created for me. On the other hand, these books are a great opportunity for narrow input and revision, and they can be incredibly motivational provided they are written well and use elements of gamification. And, judging by the post, Alastair’s and his co-authors’ books are definitely worth checking out!
P.S. I’ve already linked to an article about QR codes to make adventure stories in the classroom; ‘A hero’s journey’ describes the power of narratives for learning. If you’re interested in the process of creating graded readers, check ‘Up a level, down a level’.
Here is a great overview article by Jim Knight about professional development – it’s actually a manual on how to avoid stagnation! It covers the reasons why are we sometimes stuck in a rut, what is it that we fear, and how we can get out of the ‘Zero-Learning Zone’. The author offers a lot of techniques to try, from design thinking to doing a hope audit (that’s a new one for me), and after reading this there can be no more excuses – would you agree? 🙂
Here is an interesting article to consider: Julio Vieitas from RichmondShare is talking about adult learners and what makes them different (and sometimes difficult). Yes, they are not ‘empty vessels‘ and have previous experience that can affect their attitudes to learning. They need real-life skills and they need to understand what exactly they are being taught. All this seems common teaching sense – but do we think about this often enough, and do we help our adult learners the way they need to be helped?