Innovate ELT 2021 – day one

These are summaries of the talks I attended during day one of the OxfordTEFL Innovate ELT online conference on 1st and 2nd October 2021. Day two is here.

Note: when I’ve included links, sometimes they’re the ones the presenter included, sometimes they’re others which I’ve found. If you’re one of the presenters and would like me to change any of the links, please let me know!

Plenary – Facing forward, looking back – Duncan Foord

What can we learn from looking at the history of ELT? I will be sharing my personal take on how I think we have done over the last 60 years, “Things that went well and points to consider…”

Duncan started by asking us whether we think that ELT is better now than it was 60 years ago, for English teachers or students. 92% think yes, nobody said no, 8% said don’t know (of 37 responses). Some of the reasons people gave:

  • More communicative
  • More research
  • Easier to access support from around the world
  • More student-centred
  • English more accepted as a lingua franca

Duncan’s reason for picking 60 years was that the pre-cursor to CELTA started in 1962, giving ELT a practical, hands-on qualification you could do to become a teacher: ‘ELT as craft’. ELT became a professional activity. We become teachers by actually teaching, not just studying it.

Another reason Duncan thinks ELT has improved is ‘the human touch’. We’re bringing humans together by enabling them to communicate with each other internationally. We see teachers and students working together across cultural boundaries that politics may not normally allow (e.g. US and Iranian teachers working together). An awareness of classroom dynamics and increased personalisation encourage learner-centredness, recognising learners as individuals, and making things more democratic through activities like pair- and groupwork.

The third reason is that there is there is a clear framework through the CEFR to make learners of where they are and where they’re going. This framework isn’t a list of grammar points, but a list of ‘can do’ statements.

A counterpoint is (was? around 2010?) a kind of ‘tech fetish’, pushing the craft of teaching to one side. He thinks that has calmed down now and that there is more of a balance between technology and craft, rather than technology taking over.

This gives us 3 C’s. We should aim to keep the dynamic of improving what we do (Craft), keep our strong sense of community (Community), and Coach learners in how to use materials and resources – we don’t have to bring all of the materials in ourselves.

Am I asking the right questions? – Teresa Bestwick

Why talk about questions? I could simply answer ‘Why not?’ but there are so many other reasons which we’ll explore in this talk. We’ll have a critical think about the types of questions we ask our learners, colleagues and the teachers we train, as well as those we ask ourselves.

When we start a session/lesson, we can have some questions on display to give attendees/learners something to think about. Questions can be:

  • Closed – yes/no
  • Open
  • Display – we know the answer, but we want the learners to demonstrate particular language they know.
  • Referential – I don’t know the answer to it, and I’m interested to find out more.
  • Convergent – limited number of answers.
  • Divergent – encourages the use of creativity, critical thinking skills etc.

Closed questions aren’t always bad. Sometimes they can be useful for checking understanding or language. Teresa shared three links to help people improve their ICQs and CCQs:

When we ask students a question, wait time is important. We need to make sure students have thinking time. We also need to give students the language to be specific about ‘I don’t know’:

  • I understand the question, but I don’t know the answer.
  • I know the answer, but I don’t know how to say it in English.
  • Language of speculation: Could it be…? Might it be…? Is it possibly…? allows students space to not have to be correct, and can be empowering.

Questions we ask students:

Questions encourage an answer.

Think about how you respond to content – don’t be insensitive by only focussing on language.

Never underestimate the power of follow-up questions.

Would you rather…? or If you were a… questions can be really motivating for students and prompt a lot of discussion.

Questions can be used as a behaviour management tool – pose a question to help learners notice their behaviour.

Use exit tickets [I’ve done this in the teen face-to-face classroom for the last two years, and it works really well – individual feedback for each learner, and a great way for you to check each person’s understanding.] Here are some more examples of EFL exit tickets:

  • One question I have about what we did today is…
  • Write three MCQs about today’s lesson.
  • Write two questions to ask me/your partner using the grammar or vocab from today.

Questions we ask ourselves:

When you have a problem, if you can turn it into a question, you can start looking for solutions.

Teresa mentioned Heron’s six categories of intervention, which she first came across in Duncan Foord’s The Developing Teacher [Amazon affiliate link / BEBC non-affiliate link]. She also recommend Rachel Tsateri’s blogpost. These are different ways of framing questions when helping yourself or others to reflect. Here are some of the questions stems you might want to use:

It’s important to ask ourselves questions to help ourselves to develop. These are some of the examples Teresa mentioned:

  • What do I love about what I do?
  • What am I looking forward to in my career?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What’s working for me?
  • What’s one area I’d like to improve in?
  • How am I developing this month?
  • How will this help me?

Teresa recommended two books:

The TEFL Development Hub

This is the community which Teresa is a co-founder of, with Simon Pearlman. They have a website and are on facebook. They post a question every Wednesday to get teachers thinking. Whenever anybody posts anything in the Hub, it has to be a question. Their weekly meetings are also based around questions.

A thought we were left with:

How to tell a story – Jamie Keddie

Good storytellers make it look easy. They might lead you to believe that it’s all about spontaneous, improvised performances. But don’t be fooled. Successful storytelling requires planning, reflection and attention to detail. In this workshop, I would like to share some basic principles that will allow you to develop your classroom storytelling skills. 

We’re not born being able to tell stories. It’s a skill we can get better at.

Jamie is talking about short stories from the teacher as a way to engage the students and get them doing things. He started off with a list:

  • Madame Tussauds
  • The Tower of London
  • Superman 2
  • The Egyptian mummies at the British Museum

We had to guess what the list was about, and then Jamie told us the story. Guessing first was a great way to get us engaged. He asked us what we thought he was most excited about – these questions kept us involved all the way through.

One of Jamie’s favourite themes is misunderstandings and miscommunications. He asked us if any of us had a story we wanted to tell about this. I got some useful feedback on my story 🙂 and enjoyed listening to others’ stories too.

He asked us about ingredients for successful storytelling. Often he gets answers related to performance techniques or teacher talk techniques, for example eye contact, pauses, body language. We suggested ideas like framing the story, personalisation, being concise, involving the audience. Jamie thinks we see storytelling wrong: we focus on the performance, rather than the preparation and process that goes into it beforehand to give the structure.

Sometimes we can ask too many questions in our stories as teachers. If we’ve got a good story, it’s naturally involving. Don’t just ask ‘Can you guess what it’s about?’ – give them some fuel to help them guess, like Jamie’s list at the start. Questions like ‘What do you think happened?’ ‘Why do you think he did that?’ – these are much stronger questions. After a good story, the listener might have unanswered questions – this isn’t a problem, it shows they’re engaged.

It’s useful to look for a ‘way in’ to the story, a ‘hook’. We don’t have to go in through the door of the story – we can break in through the window, go down the chimney, steal an elephant from the zoo and crash through the walls 🙂 These hooks can be useful for comprehension and to give the learners some help in understanding the story. It doesn’t have to be something super clever – it can draw attention to some of the content in the story, like giving them a title, key words, asking questions about a concept in the story (mine was about code-switching for example, so asking about this could work), lists…they can all help the students to make connections.

Set up can be very important – don’t neglect it, because this gives the context people need to understand the story. When preparing, think about how to draw attention to the details, and what order to mention them in. This can help to make the story more impactful. How descriptive can you get? Should you add more details? Or remove details? We can draw attention to certain information in the story, for example by pauses or by the order we mention things in.

To manage the time, students can record a ‘talking head’ video of their story, rather than telling their story live during the lesson.

If you’d like to find out more about storytelling and see examples, Jamie’s website is LessonStream. He also runs a storytelling course for teachers.

Teaching, Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Presences in Action – Tyson Seburn

The Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001) identified four aspects of enriching online educational spaces: teaching, cognitive, social, and (most recently) emotional presences. Twenty years later, these were thrust into action for everyone to varying degrees of success. But what are they? We’ll explore them here.

[I missed the start of this session]

Tyson is talking about asynchronous and blended courses.

To increase his teaching presence, Tyson uses:

  • Colours to show the students to guide them in what they need to do in online tasks. For example, highlighted in blue if they’re working in groups, highlighted in pink if they’re working alone.
  • Teaching tips to help the students use the medium better.
  • Emojis to show what is a handout, a recorded lesson, a task to complete etc.
  • Layout of the tasks – week one is a top-level heading, tasks that are part of week one are indented.
  • Have a forum where they can ask questions specifically.

Teaching presence can also come from students, not just the teacher.

  • Have roles for students within an activity / task.
  • They can answer each other’s questions about concepts / instructions.
  • Give peer feedback and evaluation.

Cognitive presence is about exploration. How are the students exploring the materials?

  • Vary engagement type, for example through different interaction patterns or different types of website/tool.
  • Encourage learners to contribute information.
  • Create spaces where the students need to make connections between different parts of the materials, and ask questions of the materials rather than just accepting what’s there.
  • Allow students to come to conclusions themselves, rather than supplying the conclusions to them. A reflective journal could be a good way to do this.

Social presence is about interaction and community. How can we can create spaces where students have to interact and give them opportunities to do so? How can we create a community where students feel bonded together and with the teacher?

  • Conversation and dialogue: how and where can we create these opportunities? Not just top-down, but students speaking to each other.
  • How can we humanise the experience of learning? For example, one teacher added a forum that they clicked through to where they were sharing pictures of their pets – this was a reward for those who were actually reading and checking the forums 🙂
  • Creating bonds and togetherness.
  • Encourage students to express (dis)agreements.

Tyson mentioned some different tools he’s played with, like Reface for some amusement (though I find this a bit disturbing!), or Padlet. Padlet has a map function to add pins to a map – not one I’d seen before.

Social presence could include giving the students conversational gambits which they can use in forums, for example for agreeing and disagreeing. This helps them to connect with each other.

Majeski, Stover and Valais (2018) added emotional presence to the list. This includes:

  • Emotional perception – can they recognise emotions?
  • Understanding – can they understand the emotions of others?
  • Faciliation – can they use emotions in a constructive way?
  • Management – can they recognise when emotions are causing disruption in their learning and think about strategies to deal with this?

The final presence is to some extent embedded in the other three presences which were proposed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000). These presences can help you in a range of ways:

These are Tyson’s references:

Demo Lesson – How to approach a text from an eco-linguistic perspective – Daniel Barber

The ecological issues we face call into question the stories we live by. Eco-linguistics offers teachers tools to examine the stories behind classroom texts. Do they teach compassion for the living planet? In this lesson, students will read and discuss a text through eco-linguistic filters to discover the underlying message.

One of the interesting features of Innovate ELT conferences is the live lessons with real students followed by guided discussion, but this is the first time I’ve made it to one. I thought it would be nice to go to something different something when attending this conference. I’ve also never really been sure about how to bring the environment into lessons where it’s not already present in the materials. There were students from all over the world: the Netherlands, Myanmar, Switzerland (but in Russia), Peru and Belarus. It was interesting to see somebody else teaching on Zoom, apart from anything else!

Daniel set up the lesson by showing students a picture of Christmas puddings in the shops in September in the UK. This was a prompt for a discussion about celebrations and the importance of celebrations in different countries.

The next stage was introducing the title of the article: 2021 Holiday Shopping Predictions: 3 Trends to Watch. This prompted a discussion about changes in students’ shopping habits over the last couple of years.

Throughout both of these stages, Daniel had a box on each slide called ‘Vocab notes’ where he added phrases that came up during the dicscussions.

There was a link to the text and a list of questions for the students to answer. I liked the layout of the slide (shown as a thumbnail below), with the text on the left and the questions on the right. Each paragraph of the text had a different coloured background, making it easier to read than if it was purely black on white (or at least, I think it was!)

After the comprehension stage, Daniel asked students to match hidden messages to specific parts of the text which he’d highlighted. For example, the line ‘The store shopping experience adds to the magic’ in the text could be match to the hidden message ‘Shopping is an exciting adventure’. There was also the idea that people were called ‘consumers’ throughout the whole text – we are only seen as people spending money.

At the end of the lesson, we had 10 minutes to chat to the students and ask them some questions about the lesson based around the idea of hidden messages in texts, questioning messages and assumptions we make individually and collectively, and the overall themes of the lesson. This idea of hidden messages in texts was interesting for me, as it’s not something I’ve really thought about working on with students before.

When we came back together as a whole group afterwards, the discussion was interesting with both students and teachers sharing ideas about the lesson. Daniel presented this as one way of encouraging students to think about messages in texts without falling into lecturing them on what they should think.

If you’d like to find out more about ecolinguistics, the Wikipedia article provides a useful starting point. There is a free online course called The Stories We Live By from The University of Gloucestershire and The International Ecolinguistics Association if you’d like to find out more.

This was definitely an interesting format, and well done to Daniel for putting himself out there by teaching a lesson with 11 teachers observing him!

The quiz

Day one ended with a quiz in the ‘Zoom garden’, which is a lovely idea. I’m off to join in now 🙂

5 thoughts on “Innovate ELT 2021 – day one

  1. Bravo! Thanks for this clear, articulate, non-judgemental summary.

    I have to say that I find the presentations you report so well quite depressing. There’s so little real content here. Foord talks platitudes, and the rest fail to say anything very important or stimulating. Seburn particularly seems lost in detail, unable to look further than his own pet concerns.

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    1. I’m sorry to hear you feel that way about the content of the presentations Geoff. I suppose it depends to some extent on what prior experience and knowledge you bring to the table – I can normally find at least something to make me think or remind me of something I’d forgotten in most presentations I go to.
      I found Tyson’s presentation to be interesting, as the idea of these presences is a new concept to me (I first heard about the idea of social presence, particularly online, last month as my friend wrote her dissertation about it) and it was useful to see how this could be applied in the asynchronous or blended classroom.

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  2. You’re so nice, Geoff, as always. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about actually, at least as far as I’m concerned.

    Like

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