Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Before IATEFL 2015 I said I’d try to publish at the end of each day of the conference. I should have learnt by now that there’s no way that will ever happen because I don’t have time to think, much less blog during the conference! Instead I decided to group my posts by themes I found in the talks I chose to see. The first two plenaries didn’t really fit any of these, hence this post. The other posts will hopefully appear over the next few days…

Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT – Donald Freeman

In the opening plenary of the conference, Freeman examined three myths of teaching and ELT:

  • ‘direct’ causality: teaching causes learning
  • ‘sole’ responsibility: as teachers, we’re the ones responsible for what happens in our classroom
  • ‘proficiency’ as the goal of our teaching

I liked the metaphor of a suitcase sculpture called Partir from Florence for how we think about how the language teaching we do in the classroom corresponds to how the students use the language outside the classroom:

Funny things happen to language when it goes to school.

In order to teach language, we have to give it attributes it doesn’t have, like grammar, levels and a division between the four skills. These create the ‘suitcase’ of the metaphor, and lead to ‘The Suitcase Problem’, divorcing language from the kind of settings it will be used in.

Rather than aiming for general proficiency, we need to ‘bound’ the language we are teaching to help the students know what they’re aiming for, and link to the settings it will be used in as much as possible [adding clear contexts].  Based on a research project with teachers learning English for classroom use in Vietnam, for example, Freeman observed that having a clear target setting motivated lower level teachers to improve at a faster rate than their higher-level counterparts when they could choose what to study and when.

You can read more details, get the slides and watch the full plenary:

Lizzie Pinard and Joanna Malefaki have written summaries of the talk.

Engagement principles and practice in classroom learning, language and technology – Joy Egbert

For the second plenary of the conference, Joy Egbert discussed the principles of student engagement and how this applies to the use of technology in the classroom. Her message was that unless students are engaged with the topics we choose and the materials and tools we use to present them, little learning will happen.

She described her own experiences of second language learning with the use of technology, and showed that many students fail to learn languages because of demotivation, boredom and frustration, as well as ineffective teaching and learning. This is something I’ve heard from many people who’ve failed to learn languages, particularly due to negative experiences at (mostly secondary) school.

When students are doing an engaging task, they pay more attention and have a greater chance of success, both linguistically and in the task itself. These are the ‘engagement principles’ she shared for creating such tasks:

  • Include authentic tasks (ones which are perceived as important by the learners, not necessarily reflecting things they would have to do in real life);
  • Integrate connections to the students’ lives;
  • Provide social interaction or deep individual focus. In group activities, allocate roles and gives students a clear reason to listen to each other;
  • Offer practice and feedback;
  • Have a good balance between the level of challenge and the skills the students have (not too easy/hard).

Joy advocated using technology to fulfil some of these criteria, but emphasised that you should only use it if it adds to the task, not for the sake of it. She gave various examples of how this might be possible and emphasised the importance of getting to know your students to ensure that the tools and materials are as relevant to them as possible.

I’m not sure how much of this talk was actually new or thought-provoking to the audience – a lot of it seems like common sense – but it did remind me of the importance of getting to know your students.

You can read more details, get the slides and watch the full plenary:

Lizzie Pinard and Joanna Malefaki have written summaries of the talk.


Comments on: "IATEFL Manchester 2015: Two plenaries" (2)

  1. Reblogged this on indiaelt.


  2. […] summaries of the first two plenaries, by Donald Freeman and Joy Egbert, which you can read in her blog. To be honest, I was somewhat relieved to read the introduction to her post, as it made me feel […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: