Opening talk for the BELTE 2011

This blog post has been on my to-do list for over a month and I am really glad to eventually put pen-to-paper (or  fingers-to-keyboard).  I travelled to Brighton for the annual BELTE (Brighton English Language Teaching Event) last month with the aim to meet some familiar faces and catch up with those that I met (albeit virtually) on Twitter.  Gordon Watts pulled out all the stops when organising the event (in association with Sussex Director of Studies Association) and there were some big names presenting during the day.

Nevertheless, when I arrived at the main building for the annual BELTE, I was provided with a free bag of goodies (an IELTS book, some publicity material as well as a summary of speakers for the day).  As expected, there were various publishers and representatives in the main hall of the school.  There were some people (teachers and publishers) that I recognised and we had the chance to catch up.  It was wonderful to see the LTC Eastbourne (whom I work with quite regularly) as well as the charity that I volunteer for on Saturdays, English in the Community, present at the BELTE.  For the opening of the annual event, the Mayor of Brighton, Anne Meadows, was present and provided some warm words of encouragement for the ELT industry.  After the opening of the event, I had the privilege to chat to Jeremy Harmer who was going to give a talk on Dogme ELT and was able to share some views and opinions of this technique of language teaching.  Also present was Mike Harrison which I met at previous EFL Conferences, including the BELTE 2010.

Annie detailing the elements of Academic Writing

The first talk that I decided to attend was focused on “Principles of Academic Writing” by Annie Broadhead.  It was an useful talk but I felt that it focused too heavily on the alignment of writing with ESOL Examinations, rather than providing any useful lesson ideas or lesson recipes which could of been incorporated into future ESP classes.  Nevertheless, it reconfirmed the idea that ESP classes are expected to produce genuine results within a specified time period and the pressure on teachers could be overwhelming.  However, the speaker providing some great ideas for teaching Academic Writing such as looking at cohesive and linking devices, incorporating the CEF (Common European Framework) into classes as well as developing student autonomy when they check their own written compositions.

Jacqui sharing her ideas on rapport in the classroom

The next talk that I attended was “Rapport and Empathy in the Learning Environment” by Jacqui Dowding.  This was an incredibly useful talk as Jacqui introduced the importance of developing rapport and empathy within the learner classroom.  She introduced the idea of rapport and empathy, then provided attendees to discuss how they develop rapport with their students.  When I first started my CELTA course at the British Council in Seoul, I was advised to initially develop rapport with the learners as everything else falls into place.  However, I was left wondering how to develop rapport.  This workshop offered to plug in the gaps and answered this question.  It was incredibly useful to learn further techniques and ideas to develop rapport.  Some of the ideas presented in the talk was to include humour, share forth comings as well as learn more about student backgrounds.  Unfortunately, with humanistic as well as sociolinguistic forms of teaching and learner backgrounds, it is intangible and can be elusive.  I suppose the largest aspect to consider when developing rapport and empathy within the classroom, is to be more approachable in classroom and seen as a friend to help and guide students on their road to language learning.  It would have been useful to receive some teaching ideas or a cookbook of teaching recipes to incorporate in the classroom to develop and extend rapport with learners.  Most teachers are aware of the common GTKY activities but I have never really looked at improving my classes devoted to developing rapport.  However, I suppose there is an important correlation between rapport with learners and improving a conversation-driven approach to Dogme ELT (and apologies if I try to draw a distinction between the two but I believe firmly that this is definitely the case).

Mike Harrison making notes on his iPad

The following talk that I attended was focused on “Teacher Observations: What is a good teacher? And who says so?” by Vic Richardson.  This talk looked at an initial video of a newly certified EFL teacher, teaching a range of learners from a coursebook and we were requested to share our opinions of the teacher (a pretty bold approach to assess a teacher from a one minute video clip and whether it was successful).  Nevertheless, the talk progressed towards detailing what makes a ‘good‘ teacher and whether there is a distinction with an ‘expert‘ teacher.  Vic determined that there indeed there was a difference and an expert teacher:

  • can identify essential representations of their subject
  • can guide learning and provide feedback
  • can monitor learning and provide feedback
  • can attend to affective attributes
  • can influence student outcomes
When comparing to “Teaching Unplugged” (2009), it becomes apparent that these characteristics are similar to teachers willing to pursue Dogme ELT.  For example, a Dogme ELT teacher adheres to the following principles:
  • establishing a classroom dynamic that is conducive to interactive talk
  • orientating lessons to the learners’ needs and interests
  • setting up activities that are language productive
  • providing the necessary scaffolding to support talk in a second language
  • recording, reviewing and recycling instances of learner language
Essentially, an ‘expert‘ teacher is one that incorporate traits not that dissimilar to Dogme ELT.  However, one must question the suitability of assessing and observing teachers as Dogme ELT, as is other forms of humanistic teaching, intangible.  Furthermore, how can someone observe and grade a teacher if they are seeking something which is intangible as is Dogme?  I put this question to Vic but his answer was less than adequate.  Perhaps he was not expecting such a question but it got me thinking whether Dogme can be assessed and whether it is either possible to observe possible Dogme-moments in the ELT classroom.  I would welcome for Vic to respond to this question that I initially put to him.
Does anyone know what this Dogme lark is?
The final talk that I attended was “Teaching unplugged beats Acquisition?  What to teach to whom, with what and why?” by Jeremy Harmer.  It was definitely a talk that I wanted to attend as it was related to my MA Dissertation and it would offer me the opportunity to listen to this particular area of ELT.  This talk was suitable for those teachers that were new as well as those that had much experience of incorporating Dogme ELT.  Jeremy conveyed well the principles of Teaching Unplugged and used video interviews within his presentation so that those around the world could share their experience of Dogme ELT.  This demonstrated that Dogme was incidental and happened when teachers were least expecting it.  Next he introduced the idea of language acquisition with reference to multiple intelligences. He questioned whether teaching unplugged would suit a particular set of learners and whether more structured and regimental forms of learning with greater aims be best for other learners.  It was an interesting concept and found that it provided greater scope to consider.  Nevertheless, it was great to finally hear about Dogme out of the context of my Dissertation.
It was an incredibly rewarding day and I look forward to next years BELTE Conference.  There was talk that the next BELTE will try to include some form of technology or twitter feed.  This would be really useful and I hope that this is really the case.  It was wonderful to meet so many teachers in such a wonderful location.