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
The 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
The 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:
- Speaking: presentations, discussions, spoken commentaries on paintings, etc
- Listening: TimeOut London, podcasts, films, music, etc
- Reading: poems, newspapers, short stories, etc
- 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 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
Anna’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:
- Drama: role-play, body language, etc
- Pop Culture: entertainment, instagram, etc
- 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:
- Make your students curious: what do you think this person is?
- Challenge them: a 7 second reading challenge – what can you remember?
- Teach unplugged (Dogme): abandon your plan and see what happens.
- Let them use their imagination: personalise the lesson and content.
- Do something just for fun: an active role-play – “What time is it?”
- Turn your class into a spider web: throw out answers back to the students and see if they agree or disagree.
- 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.