IATEFL Harrogate 2010

You could not wish for a better way of starting the conference – Day 1 opened with Tessa Woodward’s marvelous plenary on teachers’ professional life cycles. It was certainly one of the best plenaries I have ever attended – it was entertaining without being over the board, it had the sort of intelligent, subtle  humor that I really appreciate; it was informative and at the same time  seriously based on research and theory. Moreover,  it was delivered with such serenity, conviction and skill that we can hardly ever find in the most seasoned speakers. Simply brilliant.

I then attended a workshop on reading groups given by  Janet Olearski titled Reading ‘Twilight’ in Abu Dahbi where she reported on her experience in creating and sustaining a reading group with female engineering students in the Arab Emirates.

Day 2 was the LMCS SIG Day and we had a varied and interesting programme. We started with Stella Smyth presenting on how to integrate Shakespeare into an EAP syllabus using as an example the activities she developed for the The Tame of the Shrew. Great! After that we had Maureen Franks presenting ‘I don’t do Shakespeare. It’s all Greek to me!’ Using Twelfth Night she  demonstrated how Shakespeare can be made accessible to English language students from secondary to university level  exploring plot, sub-plot, character development and setting.

Then we had Izolda Geniene presenting on Intertextuality of poetry and painting in the ELT classroom followed by Robert Hill presentation on Transformation stories. Rob is one of the best presenters I know – his talks are always engaging, entertaining and extremely interesting. In this session he  explored stories involving transformations, and suggested ‘how internet projects, films, illustrations and text connections can expand learners’ language skills and their awareness of the world.’ We closed with The pleasure of the text: Managing and sustaining reading groups by Alan Pulverness & Sarah Mount. They surveyed a range of approaches to managing groups, focusing particularly on the special skills required by facilitators and we had the opportunity to enjoy a reading group experience, exploring and evaluating some of the strategic options available to the facilitator.

It was a rich day that culminated with the Hornby Trust dinner at the Od Bell Tavern for present scholars and Alumni. The sad note is that Penny Trigg is leaving the BC and I do feel for future scholars that will not have her to guide them. Good luck to Penny in her future projects.

I started Day 3 attending Philip Prowse talk on CILLL, which is an acronym he  invented for Content in Language Learner Literature, and which should be pronounced as kill 🙂 For Philip ‘original fiction dealing with controversial or sensitive contemporary issues can stimulate a genuine response to text, rather than using it as a pretext for language practice.’ I couldn’t agree more and I also agree with his view that reading should be all about reading instead of doing grammar and vocabulary exercises or answering to the comprehension questions that now pop up among the pages of most graded readers. Then I had my own presentation on Imagination in Teacher Education. I was happy to have a full room and very distinguished delegates attending my session, which was an honour and a pleasure. My audience was extremely receptive and open minded and at the end of the day I can say that I really had a great time doing the session.

My choice for the last day was the Narrative in ELT Symposium which had  Brian Tomlinson as convenor. Brian  highlighted the power of narrative as a stimulus and a source of meaningful and comprehensible input and  suggested ‘ways of helping learners to create and present their own narratives as a way of facilitating their communicative competence and raising their self-esteem.’ Then Hitomi Masuhara demonstrated  ‘some ways of helping learners to reduce such frustrations and to enjoy learning English through expressing themselves’ using poems, haiku and photo haikus, for example. She was followed by Jaya Mukundan who presented on textbooks used in Malaysia and showed how he got his learners (teacher trainees in the B.Ed. TESL programme) to create their own “stories” (and learning materials) that relate to the themes in the textbook. Ivor Timmis followed and argued that ‘one way we can explore spoken language with our learners is recording our own stories , as such stories are likely to be motivating for learners to listen to and easy for teachers to analyse.’  The Forum concluded with Alan Maley.  He  suggested that we can foster the formation of a ‘storied class’ by making story-telling a regular part of every lesson, encouraging the class to record its own unfolding story, through a class journal, website or blog, including visual records, poems, songs etc. arising out of it, celebrating the class story (ethnic memory), encouraging the exchange of stories from the world outside the class, and encouraging the writing  and publishing of stories.

The conference finished with Jan Blake’s final plenary telling us stories. I know  some people complained that entertaining and engaging as it was, it had, strictly speaking, nothing to do with ELT or classroom practice but the connections were there for all of us to make and, to be honest, after such 5 extremely intense days, that was perhaps all we needed.