Every January International House organises a conference for Directors of Studies (DoS) from across the IH network. I’d heard about it, followed the tweet stream and watched videos from previous conferences, but this year, I finally got the chance to go, and it was worth the wait!
The conference took place from 9th-11th January 2014 at Devonport House, Greenwich, London, a beautiful venue right next to Greenwich Park. It was a flying visit to London, so the only photo I managed to take in the area was of the ship in a bottle outside, so you’ll have to take my word about the location.
The conference was kicked off by Lucy Horsefield and Monica Green talking about how to show students their progress. There was a lot of discussion of different ideas from DoSes around the world. One area I’d like to think more about is how to help general English students to see their progress, as I often feel we neglect them somewhat in favour of young learners and business students, where we have to be accountable to the people paying for the course, or exam students who are working towards a clearly defined goal. What do you do at your schools for these students?
Chris Ozog did a session about ‘Teacher Development and the DoS’ which I talked about for the IH World YouTube channel. (Sorry for mispronouncing your surname Chris!)
Other speakers from the first day included Peter Medgyes on native and non-native speaker teachers, Nick Kiley entertaining us with anecdotes and lessons about management from his experience of being managed, and the team from ELT Teacher2Writer introducing their training courses and their database of teachers interested in doing writing work, which I’ve now signed up for.
Jane Harding da Rosa finished off the day with a great talk on fostering learner autonomy. I particularly liked her emphasis on demonstrating the tasks you want students to do in their own time by dedicating class time to them. We can’t expect students to take responsibility for their own learning if they don’t know how to do it. She also drew a couple of neurons and showed how everything a student does in English strengthens the connection between them, by drawing a line, then another on top, then another on top, until there was a very thick line linking the two. Simple, but very effective (and better when you see it than when you read about it!) – definitely one I’ll be using with my classes.
Day two was reserved for guest speakers. Hugh Dellar told us twenty things he’d learnt in twenty years of teaching, which was very entertaining, and fed nicely into Andrew Walkley’s session of later in the day. This was the one which I think I took the most away from. Andrew discussed language-focussed teacher development, and how we should emphasise language awareness more in our teacher training. He showed us examples of language awareness tasks like ranking words in order of their frequency, and writing example sentences with language we might teach. The latter was particularly interesting; for example, ‘beard’ is much more likely to be used in a sentence like ‘Have you seen that guy with the beard?’ than ‘He has a beard’, and yet we’re much more likely to teach the second sentence. Andrew pointed out that when we think quickly we tend to come up with the easiest possible example (‘He has a beard’) because it’s easily accessible. If we focus on language and examples during our planning, we’re more likely to give students chunks and sentences which they will actually need and encounter. He advocated a change in emphasis in both teacher training and school culture in general, from activities and grammar towards language. One point which particularly resonated with me was that in (preparation for) observations we tend to focus on procedure rather than the language which we expect students might produce, or which we could introduce to them. This related back to Hugh’s recent blog posts about exploiting lexical self-study material (part one, two, three). It is important to remind ourselves that ultimately we are language teachers, and language should be at the heart of what we do, something which we often forget in our quest to find the ‘best’ activities or adopt the ‘most suitable’ methodology. They have inspired me to try and find out more about the lexical approach, and to try and incorporate more language awareness into our fledgling teacher training at IH Sevastopol.
Patsy M. Lightbown, Maureen McGarvey and Fiona Dunlop also gave sessions on day two. I realised I really need to read ‘How Languages are Learned’ (no idea how I got through Delta without it!)
The IH World Quiz Night finished off the second day, and was a great example of how a conference social event should be run (thanks Shaun, Nick and Mike!). I was on a team with representatives from IH Bristol, IH Manchester, IH Newcastle, IH Brno, and IH World, and I really enjoyed it, even though we didn’t win.
On day three, Robin Walker gave us a three-hour workshop on priorities and practice for teaching pronunciation, the slides for which are available on his blog. It was an interesting comparison of the differing pronunciation requirements for students who are going to be speaking mostly to natives, and mostly to non-natives. It also links nicely to the ideas of English as a Lingua Franca and the ELFpron blog of Katy Davies and Laura Patsko, who was sitting next to me during the workshop.
The final afternoon of the conference was ‘speed dating’, a very entertaining, highly-paced event, full of great ideas. It involved about 22 presenters, divided into three sessions of 7-8 presenters each, giving 10-minute presentations five or six times over the course of an hour. My presentation, about online professional development, is available on my blog. Here is the video I recorded to introduce it (YouTube could have chosen a better still for it!):
The whole conference was a very enjoyable experience, but as always with conferences, the best thing about it was being able to connect with passionate teachers from around the world, like Chris Ozog, Kylie Malinowska and Laura Patsko in the photo below.