ETp Live Conference 2014: Brighton

I was fortunate to attend the English Teaching Professional Live Conference this year, which was held in Brighton – so just a short train journey to the event. I arrived, collected my badge and was given a wonderful goody bag filled with various books and other things. There were 11 speakers at the event which included Chia Suan Chong, Antonia Clare, Jeremy Harmer, Mike Hogan, Philip Kerr and Ken Wilson, so I was spoilt for choice on which talk I would attend. It was quickly decided that I would attend talks based on personal importance and those that were possibly necessary for my school.

Thus, I decided to attend Jeremy Harmer’s opening talk “Sacred gift or faithful servant? Focus and creativity in the classroom”, followed by Dennis Davy’s talk “London calling – practical ideas on how to use London (or any city) as the theme of a series of lessons”, then Philip Kerr with “The brave new world of adaptive learning”, next with Anna Musielak’s talk with “How to incorporate drama, games, literature and popular culture into the classroom”, then Chia Suan Chong’s talk on “Creating the right impression – the politeness and pragmatics of EFL” and finally with Ken Wilson on “Ten ways to get your students to DO something”.

“Sacred gift or faithful servant? Focus and creativity in the classroom”: Jeremy Harmer

Opening plenary ETp Live 2014The opening of English Teaching professional Live 2014, in Brighton, was started by Jeremy Harmer.  As usual, he was incredibly energetic during the talk and started the conference by giving a quote by Sheryl Crow on what she has sacrificed for her music, which was her love life, but she also said, during a Guardian interview “I think whatever you give your attention to is what thrives”.  Jeremy attempted to link ‘more heart and more creativity’ in the classroom by focusing on what you love doing: teaching.  However, before answering this question, Jeremy wanted to remind attendees of the conference of important issues in teaching such as prompting creativity and attention in the classroom as well as demanding more from your learners.

Jeremy also, having been to various of his talks, linked musical practice to repetition in language learning which would then prompt automaticity.  There was a nice spin with the improvisation of jazz music with lexical chunks, with jazz musicians knowing over a hundred licks which could then be included during improvisation.  The obvious metaphor was that learners should have a bank of lexical chunks which they could pepper their speaking with to sound more fluent.  There was also another link with musical practice and English language teaching, which I had not thought about before, where Jeremy attempted to link ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘mindless practice’ with an emphasis that deliberate language practice is more cognitively important, where mindless language practice is unsuitable for any teacher and learner.  He finally suggested areas to improve focus and creativity in the classroom, such as demanding learner focus, seizing the teaching moment, providing CLIL-based tasks, etc.

It was wonderful start to the conference and it is always a pleasure to see Jeremy give such an enthusiastic and thought provoking talk.

Additional Reading: What Sheryl Crow gave her attention to

“London calling – practical ideas on how to use London (or any city) as the theme of a series of lessons”: Dennis Davy

Dennis DavyThe second talk that I attended was by Dennis Davy on using cities, with him offering London as an example, to develop cultural awareness and interest in language teaching.  There were various ideas offered by Dennis and it was nice to see that a teacher based in France was keen to incorporate cities into their repertoire of lessons.

The talk started with Dennis getting attendees to think of famous poets, musicians, painters, etc that were related to London.  There were numerous ideas of this shared in the room and then we moved on to the teaching of cities.  Dennis mentioned that the course that he developed in France was 30 hours in length and was loosely CLIL related.  The content of the course was negotiated by the learners and his learners were academics with the main aim to develop cultural awareness and cultural competence.

Dennis suggested different practical ideas which could be incorporated to practice the various skills of English:

  1. Speaking: presentations, discussions, spoken commentaries on paintings, etc
  2. Listening: TimeOut London, podcasts, films, music, etc
  3. Reading: poems, newspapers, short stories, etc
  4. Writing: essays, summaries of presentations, etc

The talk was invaluable for those teachers that had not considered teaching with the focus on cities, but there were a few questions from attendees enquiring whether students would be ‘sold’ on this idea of teaching, how student progress could be measured during the course and what the assessment criteria would involve.  Nearer the end, I felt that Dennis was giving a commentary of his slides as he was showing slide after slide of painters and paintings, and unfortunately I started to switch off.  I did come to this talk to see what could be included in the classroom not to see numerous slides of paintings, architecture, etc.  However, it was a good chance to reflect on what our school could develop or deliver by developing learner interest in cities or places of interest within the classroom, prior to our learners visiting these places.

“The brave new world of adaptive learning”: Philip Kerr

Philip KerrPhilip Kerr’s talk was about adaptive learning and it was the first time that I had come across the term ‘adaptive learning’.  Adaptive learning is online computer education which amends the delivery of teaching material based upon the answer provided by the learner.  Kerr painted a picture of the industry of English language teaching which was slowly becoming more and more reliant on technology with publishing houses focusing solely on adaptive learning applications to supplement and complement coursebooks.  He gave a first-hand account on how a large publishing house had spent their budget on the technology rather than focus on the content in the coursebook and the project had to be shelved in the end.

The second part of the talk looked at the replacement of teachers with technology and interestingly I read an article a number of days previously about teachers being replaced by technology and it is a worrying proposition by educational institutions.  Despite the debate of technology versus teachers, the big global institutions are able to drive their market to affect language teachers and schools.  The final focus of the talk by Kerr, focused on the development of learning management systems which were being developed and used for English teaching institutions such as Macmillan Campus and Pearson MyLab and Philip proposed that ‘technology in the classroom is offering a solution for no problem’.  Although the talk was of any practical nature, Philip maintained interest in the industry of English teaching that it was as useful as any other talk during the day.

Additional reading: Adaptive Learning in ELT

“How to incorporate drama, games, literature and popular culture into the classroom”: Anna Musielak

10503750_10154274374345573_1336425711_oAnna’s highly practical and invaluable talk was wonderful and it was so nice to go to such a talk and take away so many ideas which could be incorporated into the classroom.  She started the talk by asking attendees what we could do with drama, pop culture and/or literature with many ideas include:

  1. Drama: role-play, body language, etc
  2. Pop Culture: entertainment, instagram, etc
  3. Literature: Shakespeare

Anna provided examples of the different valuable games and activities which teachers could use in class.  Some of the best ideas which were proposed included:

  • Grab a slip: a pair of students are acting in a scene, the example at the talk was about the weather, and then when the teacher blows a whistle or claps, the students then have to grab a piece of paper and try to use the phrase as naturally as possible for the context.  Obviously, Anna created some funny phrases for the conversation and topic and both people demonstrating the activity were in hysterics.  I would like to use this activity in the near future with my young learners and you can change it from phrases to words or people, etc.
  • Snowball fights: everyone at the session wrote a question on the piece of paper, rolled it into a ball and then we threw them around the conference hall.  When Anna blew her whistle, we all picked up a paper ball and then wrote an answer to the question.  I would love to do this activity for get to know you activities and will use this in the future.
  • Talk gibberish: a pair of student work together and then one student is talking gibberish or some old literature like Shakespeare and then the other student is now translating in more modern and up to date English.
  • Cheering corrections: Anna told attendees of an engaging and interesting idea of correcting learners through the use of cheering or booing.  If an answer is incorrect, students should boo, and if it is correct, students should cheer.  It was a nice and engaging way of maintaining learner interest in the highly useful area of learner feedback.

Anna’s talk was really useful and I would recommend any teacher to attend her talk in the future.  She has some wonderful ideas which young learner, or adult, teachers could incorporate straight away into the classroom.

Additional Reading: Anna’s Twitter

“Creating the right impression – the politeness and pragmatics of EFL”: Chia Suan Chong

Chia’s talk on politeness in English was a very educational and helpful talk.  Chia initially shared her experiences of being considered ‘rude’ and ‘impolite’, when she asked her housemates, “Can you take the rubbish out please!”, in a very direct and loud way – which is often considered rude and impolite.  She introduced the concept of English as a Lingua Franca, known as ELF, and Kachru’s 3 circles of world Englishes.  This reminded me of my MA studies when I was looking at ELF and a Lingua Franca Core (LFC) by Jennifer Jenkins.  The great thing about this talk was that research had been conducted, with Chia sharing the results of this.  What she had done was record a day on the front desk at IH London and then go through the recording and transcribe this, then finally interview what was considered polite and impolite.

It was a very useful talk, with Chia demonstrating important areas of ELF: pronunciation, politeness, etc.  We finally looked at the ‘impressions of (im)politeness’ through the use of a video and being asked what was impolite about the situation in the video and then comparing it with a similar situational video.

Additional Reading: Chia’s blog

Ten Seven ways to get your students to DO something”: Ken Wilson

The closing talk was by Ken Wilson and it was the first time that I was going to see a talk by him.  He proposed seven, not ten, due to time restriction, ways to get students involved in the classroom and getting them to do things.  It was a very useful and practical end for the last session of the conference.  His seven strategies included:

  1. Make your students curious: what do you think this person is?
  2. Challenge them: a 7 second reading challenge – what can you remember?
  3. Teach unplugged (Dogme): abandon your plan and see what happens.
  4. Let them use their imagination: personalise the lesson and content.
  5. Do something just for fun: an active role-play – “What time is it?”
  6. Turn your class into a spider web: throw out answers back to the students and see if they agree or disagree.
  7. Be enthusiastic: if you walk into a class looking pretty miserable, your students will be bored and not want to be there.

It was a quick and paced talk with attendees having to do various activities during the session and before we knew it, that was the end of the talk.  It was so useful.

The talks were so useful and I really felt that I had acquired new practical ideas which I could incorporate into the classroom.  I was so happy to have met so many other teachers who were incredibly motivated and enthusiastic about teaching and I would highly recommend teachers to attend the next ETp Live event.

Instructions in the Classroom: Teacher Training Session

Instructions 3Instructions 1Instructions 2

Last Friday, I gave a teacher training session on “Instructions in the Classroom”.  I had been reading an awful lot about instructions and tried to plan a good training session for these two recently qualified CELTA teachers and it was the first time that I covered this area of classroom management.  There was a good selection of blog posts that I had read recently about instruction giving and a highly invaluable blog post written by about preparing an instruction training session.
Here is a breakdown of what happened during the training session:

  1. I introduced the topic of the training session and the usual aims.  I started off the session by giving my teachers some really bad, wordy and poorly designed instructions: “What I would like you to do is stand up … but not yet [they sit back down again] … you need a pen and you both need to go to this side of the room.  Sorry … just one person to this side of the room and you sit down here!  You need a piece of paper … do you have a piece of paper? On this err … this paper … just write down some … err ideas or things about err …” – you get the idea.  I asked the teachers to make a list of good and bad instructions and work together.  Hopefully, my really bad instructions inspired my teachers to create a good list.
  2. The teachers sat down together for about three minutes and noted down some ideas: “Eye contact with students”, “Gestures”, etc.  I then showed some ideas that I had from my PowerPoint (please refer to this below).
  3. I then handed out some coursebook activities (roleplays, listening, speaking, etc) and asked the teachers to prepare their instructions for a minute.  The teachers were recorded by my smartphone and then we listened to this playback and then they each gave each other peer feedback.
  4. After a few turns, I then gave each teacher an activity to prepare instructions on the spot with no prior preparation.  This seemed to work quite well and the teachers were getting into giving instructions to a group of ghost students.
  5. The teachers were then asked to consider ICQs to supplement the instructions and for each activity given previously.  The teachers prepared their ICQs and then peer feedback was given again.
  6. Next, I showed the teachers some advice regarding ICQs (“Always prepare a question where the answer is either x or y”, etc).  They noted this down briefly.
  7. The following activity was looking at gestures in the classroom.  I got the teachers to consider suitable gestures to include for common areas: “Listen to me!”, “Please repeat that”, etc.  They were all standing up and they looked as if they were traffic cops or going through a dance routine.
  8. Finally, I handed out some additional reading and referred to some books to consider looking at in their free time.  Reading included teacher training books as well as blog posts (links are provided below).

The PowerPoint slides are available to view via Slideshare (embedded below) and if you have any questions regarding this training session, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Otherwise, you can ask a question in the comment’s section below.

Additional Reading:

Some of the following blog posts are incredibly helpful if you would like to check a bit more about instructions and ICQs. They were really helpful when I was preparing the training session and I also referred my teachers to these blog posts.

English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference: Handouts

This is a blog post for complementary material to accompany the talk given at the English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference in London on 9 November 2013.  I have included a PDF of my handout, a slideshow of my presentation as well as a YouTube tutorial about using Google Drive for online research in ELT.  I hope this is useful and thanks for either attending my talk or reviewing the material on this topic.

English UK 2012: Annual Teachers’ Conference

The Shard reaching into the clouds.

On Saturday, I travelled up to London for the 2012 English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference and was fortunate to give a talk on my favourite subject … Dogme ELT.  I met up with a colleague, from my school, on the train but had to get up very early.  Around 5am to be honest.  Anyhow, we arrived at the venue on time for the registration and collected our badges.  At the venue (nearby Borough), we were greeted with juice, coffee, croissants, pain au chocolat as well as a range of other goodies and a good chance for a rather needed breakfast.

Before the first plenary, I was able to meet with some of the publishers and was able to say hello to a few familiar faces.  I had an hour so managed to sit down somewhere for a bite to eat, a coffee and a chance to catch prepare my final things for my talk.  I met Tom from English UK who helped show me the presentation equipment for my talk and I was able to go through my talk one last time.  Of course I had some butterflies in my stomach but wasn’t overly nervous and was looking forward to my talk.

Anyhow, the Opening Plenary was by none other than Jeremy Harmer (who I last met at Bucharest at an ELT talk).  He decided to go through the Opening Plenary with no overhead slides, no videos or any images – it was decidedly refreshing.  Jeremy developed six questions for his talk and provided the attendees the opportunity to offer their insight and experience.  Some of the questions focused on issues such as the use of IT, CLIL, as well as language testing.   After his talk, we were guided back into the main hall and was given the opportunity to collect some more coffee and biscuits before the key talks for the conference started.

The first talk I attended was by Josh Round about “Putting the C and P into CPD“.  He delivered a very interesting presentation through the use of Prezi.  Personally, I am keen to learn a bit more about cloud presentation software available on the internet and I have much to learn about Prezi.  Anyhow, Josh looked at activities available for teachers to continue CPD, the role CPD could play in future job prospects as well as developing an effective CPD programme in a language school.  There was also reference towards Twitter and role it has played in language teaching or the sharing of ideas or teaching experiences.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any talks during second session as I had my talk.  For those that missed my talk, I have attached a copy of my slides and eHandout below.

English UK 2012: Balancing Dogme ELT in the Classroom

English UK 2012: eHandout

The final talk that I attended was by Nick Robinson about the opportunities available for budding ELT Authors. He gave a first-hand account of being an author and the expectation for those that were keen to get in this field.  Nick was able to refer to his personal experience and the majority of attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions or share personal experiences.  During the talk, I was introduced to the Pomodero Technique for completing various tasks (something that I haven’t heard before and something that I will definitely include in future tasks when writing).

Nick talks about the act of using a cat as a writer.

Nearer the end, Nick echoed something that Josh mentioned during his talk earlier that any teachers that were keen to get noticed needed to demonstrate potential.  Nick mentioned that teachers needed to demonstrate potential through the use of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) with Twitter, blogging, the creation and sharing of material and some other areas.  When I was on the MA course at Sussex Uni, one of the students had co-authored a coursebook for Cambridge University Press.  She gave a talk about becoming an author and much of what she mentioned was echoed in Nick’s talk.  As in both talks (at English UK and at the University of Sussex), I found myself being referred to as a case-in-point (blogging, Twitter, etc) – get yourself noticed through your blog, market yourself and create a following.  It was great to meet Nick in person, having been following him on Twitter for quite a while.  I also hope to meet Nick at future conferences in the near future.

Chia starts the Closing Plenary.

That was the end of the Conference today and I was looking forward to attending Chia’s Closing Plenary.  I haven’t attended a talk or plenary held by Chia and was keen to see her in action (so to speak).  She started the talk by introducing herself and her ideas about language teaching.  She was incredibly energetic during the plenary and her presentation was visually engaging: videos, pictures, etc.

Chia covered all ELT theories in her talk (which was a first for any plenary or talk that I had attended) and the attendees had the opportunity to guess or predict theories that were presented.  Chia successfully incorporated some highly amusing videos with her talk to show the use of particular language theories and methods.  One of the most amusing videos that was shown during the talk is below.

Chia and Jeremy after the Q&A Session.

Finally, Jeremy and Chia finished off the conference with a Q&A Session.  Some of the attendees were offered to the opportunity to answer questions from the attendees, which they handled superbly.  There were various questions about CLIL, Dogme ELT, the focus between teaching methodology versus learning methodology (which I attempted to ask), as well as a range of other points.  There were some interesting debates developing but the Q&A Session finished and attendees were guided to the main hall for drinks and a good chin-wag.

I was able to meet other attendees over a few beers and ended up having a conversation with three other attendees about Dogme ELT and my proposed “Balanced Approach” which developed further for my talk.  It was a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and insights into language learning with other likeminded individuals and I would highly recommend other teachers to attend the English UK  Conference next year.

English UK 2012 Teachers’ Conference: Dogme ELT Talk

On 10 November 2012, there is the annual English UK 2012 Teachers’ Conference held in London which is held at Prospero House.  I will be holding a talk during the day at the Conference about Dogme ELT and is related to my IATEFL Talk in Glasgow earlier this year.  Further details regarding the venue (Prospero House) is located below.

Obviously, there will also be others presenting during the Conference and with some big names in ELT such as Adrian Underhill, Rachael Roberts, Nik Peachey as well as many other names.  Jeremy Harmer will be involved with the Opening Plenary and the conference opens its doors from 9:15am with a Closing Plenary with Chia Suan Chong at 3:30pm.  The Conference Programme is available to view below:

Conference Programme 2012 Web

It will be wonderful to meet some familiar faces and I look forward to seeing some at my talk on the 10 November.

BELTE 2012 – Conference Summary

From left to right: Huan Japes, Bill Randell and Gordon Watts

Last weekend, it was the BELTE (Brighton English Language Language Training Event) 2012 conference and has been the 3rd time that I have attended this training event.  It was pretty easy getting the train to Brighton and I met some familiar faces from LTC Eastbourne at the train station.  We all sat down on the train to compare the list of presenters and decide who we were going to see at the conference.  This year, there had been a number of famous ELT professionals such as Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar as well as Martin Parrott to name just a few.  Having received the BELTE 2012 timetable early, thanks to Gordon Watts, I had already decided which talks that I was wishing to attend.

Anyhow, once I had arrived, I was given the usual goody-bag, free books supplied by Global ELT and had an opportunity to speak to the various publishers.  The best thing about the annual BELTE is that it is free for all attendees and you can get a free book with the goody-bag.  Nevertheless, once I had met some fellow ELT professionals and said hello to some friends to teachers and publishers, Gordon Watts formally opened the event with current Brighton Mayor (Bill Randell) and English UK Deputy Chief Executive Huan Japes.  Brighton Mayor asserted that ELT was an estimated value of £100 million for Brighton, while Huan Japes discussed the complex issue of visa issuance and regulation for non-EU students wishing to attend language schools in the UK.

Attendees choosing which talks to attend.

After the formal opening of the BELTE, attendees were encouraged to write on boards which talks that they wanted to attend.  Of course, with over 300 attendees to the small conference event, all the talks were very popular and good attendance for each talk.  For a full list of the presenters for the BELTE, please view my previous blog post (This Year’s BELTE – 20 October 2012).  I decided to attend Luke Meddings’ talk on Dogme ELT (due to a personal interest in the subject), Hugh Dellar’s talk on Translation in the Classroom (a subject that I haven’t really considered before) as well as Rachael Roberts’ talk on the IELTS Examination and the implications for fluency in the test.

10:30: ‘What Happens When We Unplug’ by Luke Meddings

The first talk which I attended at 10:30am was Luke Meddings’ focus on “What happens when we unplug?“: a talk focused on the implications of Dogme ELT inside and outside the classroom.  A few weeks ago, I attended a talk at the British Council in Spring Gardens about “Found Objects” and was keen to learn Luke’s take on Dogme ELT compared to my dissertation on this subject.  Anyhow, he started the talk by getting attendees to write down the first thing that they had mentioned, thought or said to another person and scribble this down on a piece of paper.  These notes were handed back to Luke to refer to later in the talk.

Luke Meddings during his talk at BELTE 2012

He then proceeded to share his experience of initial teacher training during the equivalent of the CELTA 25 years ago and some feedback from the teacher trainers.  He then started reflecting on the use of Teacher Talking Time (TTT), which struck a chord as I had blogged about this two weeks previously (How Appropriate is TTT in the Classroom?).  Some of the thoughts and reflections that he mused over regarding TTT many years ago were similar to personal thoughts and ideas that I had, as Dogme ELT is associated with an interactionalist approach to language teaching.  As Luke maintains: “Talking with the learners, rather than talking to the learners”.  I suppose the reflections on TTT is more relevant towards the provision of instructions rather than a conversational approach to teaching.  Nevertheless, the ‘conversational-driven‘ aspect of Dogme ELT is rather interesting (as this philosophy of teaching is not new when considering the amount of teachers proclaim that they already incorporate elements of Dogme ELT either knowingly or unknowingly) and Luke then decided to share of the ‘materials-light‘ tenet of teaching unplugged.

Luke decided to focus on the aspect of materials in the classroom and pointed out that with the amount of technology in the classroom, the amount of materials has actually increased in real-terms.  For example, teachers and learners have access to coursebooks, CDs, DVDs, IWB materials, online forums, photocopiable materials, teacher manuals, supplementary learner books, dictionaries, digital apps, etc.  When I started English teaching, we only had access to student coursebooks, teacher manuals and CDs.  There appears to be a digital revolution occurring with English teaching resources.  Many people thought that the advent of technology would make the learning experience more motivational and adaptable for the classroom.  However, material has been piled on with teachers and learners expecting more bang for their buck.

Nearer the end of the talk, Luke reviewed the three key tenets of Dogme ELT (those being ‘conversation-driven‘, ‘materials-light‘ and a focus on ‘emergent language‘).  The talk then considered the ‘test-teach-test’ of language learning and Luke suggested that Dogme ELT should be related and focused with an ‘assess-teach-assess’ element of language learning.  It was highlighted that when teaching in an unplugged style, it is reactionary rather than prescriptive.  Thus, you are always assessing teaching opportunities, assessing learner capability, making informed decisions on language learning then reassessing learner understanding, hence its relationship with the ‘assess-teach-assess’ philosophy.

The next part of the workshop, Luke used various prepositions (in/out, above/below, etc) for attendees to discuss the relationships with language learning with the person sitting next to them.  There was some very interesting discussions with all attendees and Luke elicited some examples from those that were present.  Finally, Luke picked up the pieces paper (which had been passed along at the start of the workshop) and he then read out some examples from the first thing a person said:

  • “Do you want to go for a walk?”
  • “I’ve knocked over some water! Towel, towel, towel!”
  • “Oh my god!”
Luke gave some wonderful techniques to teach with the suggested sentences.  Some of this included drilling, analysis of grammar, L1/L2 translation, etc.  It was a wonderful example on how to incorporate a ‘materials-light‘ approach to teaching and one that I will try out with my learners in my next class.
As a final attempt to demonstrate the ease of technology in the classroom to develop interaction, elicitation and experimentation in the classroom, Luke brought out his iPhone with some pre-recorded material in particular places.  He played the audio (which consisted of some people chatting, some loud clanging, etc – which was actually the train station) and he got attendees to guess the place.  After some suggestions, one person got the right answer.  Luke mentioned that through the use of some very common tools with technology, you could create a rich and engaging lesson.  Obviously, the use of material flies in the face of a ‘materials-light‘ tenet of Dogme ELT, but this tenet is not ‘materials-free‘.

11:45: ‘Translation: Tackling the Taboo’ by Hugh Dellar

Hugh Dellar starts his talk at the BELTE.
The next workshop that I decided to attend was related to translation in the language classroom, an area of language teaching which is a rather under-respected topic mainly due to its pedagogical relationship with grammar translation methods of language education.  Historically, grammar translation was taught when children had to learn Latin, having to translate reams of text from Latin into English, learning the grammar forms as well as learning verb conjugations.  However, as my wife is a professional Korean translator and interpreter, I have a personal interest in translation methods of teaching in the language classroom and whether a place exists for translation/interpreting in the classroom.  There is a commonly error between the difference between translation and interpreting.  Translation is the conversion of text between one language to another, while interpreting is the conversion of speech between one language to another.
Dellar arrived after a brief panic (his underground train was delayed and he spent a number of hours trying to travel to Victoria Station then to Brighton), but he was not late for his talk.  He rushed in, got things organised and started his talk.  He obviously didn’t refer to the difference between translation and interpreting (perhaps something that he could focus on in a future talk) but his talk was aimed for translation in the classroom and he initially looked at why translation was considered a taboo in the classroom.  He encouraged attendees to discuss this amongst themselves and whether they have ever used translation in the classroom.  There was much debate about the use of it in the classroom and whether L1 should actually be included within the lesson if the aim of the lesson is L1.
Practical applications of translation in the classroom.
After some discussion and pointers by Hugh, he suggested some wonderful classroom ideas to incorporate translation in the classroom.  These included writing up a script of L1 to L1 interaction between learners and getting learners to translate this, providing students with the materials to translate which they may encounter in their work as well as raising the awareness of differences between language and culture by getting learners to translate from English to their language then, after a while, back into English (usually called back-to-back translation and a tool used by professional translators to assess quality of translation projects and something that my wife is forever doing).  However, the teacher will have to have some knowledge of the learner’s L1 if they are expected to incorporate some ideas for the classroom but is a wonderful opportunity for learners to teach their teacher about their own language/culture.  The workshop appeared to pass by so quick and it was already time for lunch and the Q&A Session.

14:00: Q&A Session with BELTE Experts

The Q&A Session is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to ask their questions to the professionals during a very informal and lighthearted part of the BELTE.  Some of the teachers asked questions related to the recession, ESOL and charity work, examining, translation as well as developments in technology applicable for the classroom.  It was very insightful and for those BELTE attendees that asked questions were given a free book so I was dead keen to ask a question about translation (considering I had attended Hugh’s talk just before).  Hugh Dellar was chairing the panel and some comments from the professionals were invaluable.  One thing that I was interested to hear about was the role of charities with private language schools and how they could both benefit each other.  As I work for a charity in a voluntary role, I am keen to see what opportunities there are for the charity and I would be keen to link English in the Community with local language schools.

15:30: ’11-14 Minutes of IELTS Speaking Hell?’ by Rachael Roberts

The last session that I attended was Rachael Roberts’ session on the speaking element of the IELTS, possibly the most daunted part of the IELTS for students taking the test.  I have never really felt much interest in attending examination workshops before, as I like to gain new ideas for the classroom rather than attend a talk about examining which won’t offer me possible ideas for classroom techniques.  However, I was really glad to attend Rachael’s talk as she attempted to bridge both areas for those interested in the examination as well as those more interested in classroom ideas.
Rachael introduced the descriptors for IELTS assessment which included fluency being one of these descriptor which is assessed.  She used the term ‘fluency‘ to create a Wordle so that attendees could see the most common and least common terms used to describe ‘fluency‘.  After showing the image, Rachael got attendees to share their own ideas about the teaching and preparation for learners (particularly in relation to the speaking part of the examination) with the IELTS and to try to describe fluency in their own words.  The descriptors which are assessed during the speaking element of the IELTS includes the following:

  • Fluency and coherence (the main focus of the talk)
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy
  • Pronunciation
Some quotes that Rachael referred to during the talk to describe fluency included the following:
  • Fluency is the “production of language in real time without undue pausing or hesitation” (Ellis and Barkhuizen 2005).
  • “Fluency is not so much speaking fast as pausing less” (Thornbury 2005).
The next part of the workshop, Rachael offered suggestions on various lexical phrases for specific functions (making recommendations, justifying opinions, agreeing, etc) which is quite useful for those teachers preparing learners for the IELTS.  When you drill learners phrases for speaking, by using some of the suggestions that Jeremy Harmer mentioned during his drilling and repetition talk in Bucharest, it can be invaluable and more useful when teaching examination preparation classes.
After the introduction of the 11 useful set phrases appropriate for learners to acquire for the IELTS, Rachael then focused on awareness raising activities to improve fluency and accuracy in English.  This included a nod towards an old book known as “Function in English” by Blundell, Higgins and Middlemass (1982), which is now discontinued and is now due for a revival for current language teachers, for more creative aspects of language preparation classes.  In some respects, language awareness and the development of emergent language is loosely related to Dogme ELT and it is interesting to see how close this philosophy of language teaching is affecting examination preparation classes.
Rachael suggested that the key for improving fluency and language awareness was to promote autonomy in the classroom.  She suggested that particular activities could be included such as:
  • Using phrase cards
  • Maintaining pressure during the classroom
  • Using a student as an observer
  • Developing more awareness raising activities (which I would recommend teachers to read “Teaching Unplugged“)
It was a wonderful workshop and I was glad that I attended an examination-based talk.  As mentioned previously, this was my first exam-focused workshop that I attended and I would recommend other teachers to attend them in the future particularly for those that have an opportunity to attend Rachael’s talks.  She was able to incorporate some aspect of her latest IELTS Coursebook for the workshop but it played a minor role in the talk and it was very nice to meet a fellow educator that I follow on Twitter in person.

BELTE 2012: Conclusion

Overall, the BELTE Conference was probably one of the best organised so far.  There were some big names from the ELT profession and the Q&A Session was very useful.  The attendees to the conference were given the opportunity to receive some free books and the best thing about the conference is it is free of charge.  You can hob-nob with some EFL professionals and meet other like-minded individuals during the day.  However, the day of the conference conflicted with other big events such as the Language Show (which is held annually in London) and preferably I would love to attend both conferences.  Nevertheless, one cannot complain about the quality of the talks and presenters during the conference.  It is invaluable for all educators and you will have the chance to meet other teachers or publishers.

“Found Objects” by Luke Meddings: British Council Seminar

Found Objects” Luke Meddings

On Tuesday 18 September, I had the opportunity to travel up to London and attend Luke Meddings’ talk at the British Council, as part of the new Seminars between 2012 to 2013, at Spring Gardens.  Luke Meddings’ talk was titled “Found Objects” and the blurb on the British Council Seminars’ poster is in the image on the left.  Each attendee was greeted by a large brown sugar cube on their chair and prior to the start of the talk I mingled with other attendees and picked up some materials (posters and DVDs), journals and pamphlets.  At the first British Council Seminar for this academic year, I bumped into to some familiar faces such as Sandy, Mike, Phil, Ela and Sue to name just a few.

What’s a sugar cube sitting here for?

The seminar started with Luke Meddings getting attendees to guess why there was a large brown sugar cube on their chair and eliciting responses, as one would if they were in the classroom.  Some of the suggestions included collocations such as “like it or lump it”, “sugar lump” or a “spoon full of sugar”.  Some other ideas why the sugar cube was present on attendees’ seats included the purpose of a reservation, so we could feed a horse (if one were to attend the seminar), or memories about being fed a sugar lump.  Essentially, the seminar was about using objects to prompt authentic interaction and conversation and it gets the outside world into the classroom.  Meddings then decided to break down the acronyms of each letter from “Found Objects” to look at various activities or ideas to consider when bringing objects inside the classroom and he related this to the second key tenet of Dogme ELT, a focus on ‘materials-light‘.  One question that I was wondering was, is there a difference between materials and objects?


F is for Found:

Meddings shared that as teachers, we never seem to switch off from the classroom.  We are constantly thinking about what materials to incorporate in classes, how to teach particular groups and what activities we should focus on.  Meddings suggested that we should go about looking for objects which we could bring into the classroom when outside.  If we find something, we could take a photo of it and share the image with learners: “the more ideas that you can come up with, the more stimuli that we can collect”.  However, we should, as teachers, should constantly think of new and inventive ways to develop conversation and, as Meddings puts it, “bringing the class alive”.  He suggested that finding objects to bring into the classroom (or pictures of these objects) comes from searching or looking actively.

ELT Pics © 2012

O is for Objects:

Meddings then looked at Objects and what constituted an object and whether a digital image or artefact is suitable for bringing into the classroom.  He then progressed to showing an image of a photo trapped under a bin with the photo being a recycling plant.  It was quite surreal to have a picture of a bin and a photo stuck under the bin of a recycling plant.  This in itself prompted quite some chatter amongst the attendees and then Meddings proclaimed that “not everything can be imported into the classroom”.  This moved on to the using of unusual and not so common images of objects in the classroom.  Essentially, the using of pictures and photographs is not so new and ELT Pics are available for teachers to share and develop photographs for the classroom.  One final picture that Meddings showed to attendees was the image of poppies.  This moved on to the next point about using objects.

U is for Using:

He gave attendees a few minutes to share their ideas and thoughts about poppies.  Some of the suggestions for the classroom included: getting learners to develop the life cycle of the poppy, the use of poppy seeds as drugs as well as one idea which I suggested getting young learners to paint poppy seeds for Christmas decorations in the classroom.  Meddings highlighted that usual objects which are found around the house or outside could be used in the classroom to creative degree.

N is for Narrative:

Meddings demonstrating the creative use of cardboard.
Just as objects can prompt authentic interaction and conversation, these objects could also prompt some form of narrative.  Narrative tenses offer learners the opportunity to use most tenses and we can focus on areas linked with lesson aims.  Meddings showed a picture of a bunch of flowers stuck between a fence and again offered attendees a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves how these flowers got there as well as who left them and why.  The ambiguity of pictures offers some form of springboard for creativity: writing a story based upon the picture, discussing ideas about objects in photographs, getting learners to recreate a story from multiple pictures, etc.  None of these ideas are new but it was a nice reminder how the simple things developed in the classroom could prompt authentic conversation and interaction.
You know you want to spend, spend, spend.

D is for Direction:

As mentioned before, objects could be used as a springboard to develop conversation.  Obviously, for most teachers they are expected to use a coursebook but there is nothing wrong with using objects and pictures to bring the coursebook alive.  Meddings suggested using a pyramid discussion when incorporating objects in the classroom: it offers some resemblance of direction and relation to the coursebook but allows opportunity for teachers to develop the direction expected by learners.  Furthermore, Meddings suggested that objects that are brought in could motivate learners and prompt them to develop conversation.  The next image that Meddings showed was a picture of a gift card from TK Maxx and on the gift card, there was some interesting language related to consumerism and purchasing that thing you have always wanted.  For example, if there is a topic about shopping and consumerism in the coursebook, teachers could always bring in an object related to shopping (a gift card in this case) and use this during the lesson.  It was a wonderful example about creatively using a coursebook but also balancing more opportunities to explore emergent language.


The remaining part of the seminar focused on the second word: Objects and this again was broken down into acronyms.  However, to avoid repetition the acronyms have been dropped and a summary of the remaining seminar is below.
The British Council podium in Spring Gardens
One obvious advantage about getting learners, as well as yourself, to bring in personal possessions into class offers ownership to objects.  Learners are able to relate to objects and share their stories about them.  For example, this week I was teaching a group of 4 learners and I got them all to bring in a personal possession that is important to them.  One Spanish learner brought in a guitar pluck and a music concert pamphlet.  He then told the rest of us how important it was to him.  He was given a guitar pluck whilst he was playing his bass guitar during the concert on the pamphlet by a fellow musician and the guitar pluck had the name of a famous band in Spain.  It was a very interesting story and the rest of the class learnt more about this learner.  Essentially, as Meddings suggested, the personalisation in the classroom provide learners to own the language as well as just the object.  Meddings then returned back to the use of images in the classroom.  He showed a picture of a wonderful building, some lovely trees, etc and then he got attendees to consider what was right behind of the photographer.  Some of the suggestions were lovely and again this linked to the previous areas highlighted during the seminar.  In the end, Meddings showed the actual scene and it was unexpected: it was a picture of a building being rebuilt with cement mixes, builders, etc.  Obviously, this generated a lot of chatter amongst the attendees.  Again, this is a similar activity that I have seen mentioned in various books about the use of images as well as with ELT Pics and it was a wonderful reminder about the simplicity of images and using various images juxtaposed to reconstruct a scene, story, etc.  The remaining areas of the seminar looked at the use of objects by getting learners to express themselves using images creatively.  This was obviously repeated before but was an important area to consider.  Meddings demonstrated this by a story about his daughter using some cardboard packaging to recreate a scene: being used as an accordion, a skirt or a punchbag.  Again, Meddings suggested that we should share with other teachers the materials and objects that we use during lessons.  We could find some wonderful objects that could be used in the class by the sharing of materials with our fellow teachers.  Meddings suggested taking some of the objects from teachers and trying it out in our own lessons and then as a post reflection, share our experiences with other teachers that have also used the objects in the classroom.  Finally, Meddings recommended that teachers should use objects that prompt conversation and natural talking in the classroom and it doesn’t need to be fully loaded with various tasks.  Essentially, a ‘less-is-more’ approach to teaching could improve learner-to-learner, as well as learner-to-teacher or vice versa, interaction and as a quote from Meddings, he recommended that “you don’t find something no where but you find it somewhere”.
Martin Sketchley (left) and Luke Meddings (right)
This week, I have brought in an object to class for my adult conversation class.   There are some wonderful ideas that Meddings recommended during the seminar and I look forward to watching it again on the Teaching English website.  I would recommend other teachers to try out some of the ideas that Meddings recommends to develop their own understanding of Dogme ELT.  Again, as I have always recommended, it is always best to follow a balanced approach to teaching: balancing between more eclectic and humanistic forms of teaching as well as more structured forms.  The use of objects and images does offer teachers the opportunity to develop a ‘tool-box’ so that Dogme ELT can be developed in the classroom.
I am looking forward to seeing Luke Meddings at the BELTE Conference on 20 October 2012 where he is focusing more on Dogme ELT.

The video of the British Council Seminars is available now to watch below:

You can also read up on the Teaching English website about the seminar also.