IATEFL Manchester 2015

It’s a sad fact of life that the more you get involved with IATEFL the less of the conference you can enjoy. There are so many meetings to attend, so many things to plan, organize, and look after, so many people to contact and talk things over with that there is little time and energy to actually attend the presentations. It is thus a shame that – apart from the LMCS PCE and SIG Day – I have managed to attend just a couple of presentations but I found them all very interesting and stimulating. Here are my highlights of Manchester 2015.

Plenary session by Donald Freeman: Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT. In his talk Prof Freeman examined some of the ‘central ideas that we live by in ELT, including ideas about how teaching and learning work, about the teacher’s role, and about the classroom goals of English instruction.’ He argued that, if ‘they are left unscrutinized and unchallenged, the ideas can undermine teachers’ professional confidence and stunt training and research’. It does sound a bit like obvious but his examples illustrated well how lack of critical thinking towards our own teaching not only lead us to fossilized practices but, I would say, sometimes actually undermine the very guiding teaching principles we protest to adopt.

Shakespeare now: resetting and retelling Shakespeare’s plays by Robert Hill (Black Cat): Rob is not only a dearest friend but also a top-flight presenter and whenever he is ‘on stage,’ I will be there to attend his talk. This time he presented on resetting and retelling Shakespeare’s plays. As the audience, we experimented with resetting/retelling Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth and others, and examined film versions of them. Brilliant!

Academic Reading Circles: improving learner engagement and text comprehension by Tyson Seburn (University of Toronto): My own doctoral research was on a reading group and I am still very much interested in finding out if the results I obtained with a literature reading group would be similar to the ones obtained in an academic reading group. I have come to know Tyson’s work through a former colleague of mine, Susie Cowley-Haselden, now at the University of Northampton, and being able to attend his presentation was a rare opportunity to listen straight from the horse’s mouth what he has experienced with his students. According to Seburb, ‘Academic Reading Circles (ARC) i s a collaborative activity that can transform learner struggles with challenging texts, like those used in higher education contexts, into stronger engagement and comprehension. Through exemplars, we explore how ARC works using five learner roles (leader, visualiser, contextualiser, connector, highlighter)’. We left the room with some tools from his related e-book to try out the activity in the classroom and this is something I will definitely find ways of experimenting with in the coming terms.

The why, what and how of self-publishing for teachers by Johanna Stirling (NILE – Norwich Institute for Language Education): This was a very interesting workshop indeed and I count this for my own career development. 99.9% of the times we attend presentations because we want to improve the quality of our teaching – we are always thinking of our students and trainee teachers. This one I attended for purely selfish purposes. Johanna examined the ‘reasons for teachers to self-publish their materials and many reasons for them not to.’

Storytelling and improvising: creativity at play by David Heathfield (INTO University of Exeter & DELTA Publishing): This was refreshing, entertaining and energizing session. David looked at ‘improvised storytelling and drama in the classroom [to] prepare students for dealing playfully with the unexpected when using English in any situation’. His workshop offered ‘practical techniques involving students doing drama improvisation based on clues before being told a folktale; and then doing an improvised retelling afterwards’. As David argues, ‘Improvisation generates positive energy and enables students to explore situations from different perspectives’. I had so much fun and the level of positive energy in the room as so high that I even made a new friend ( Hi there Yvone! ).

Teaching literature using the five senses by Maria Lucia Sciamarelli (The C Group): Malu looked at how we can ‘encourage students to activate the five senses when they are introduced to literature’ and showed activities that can ‘prepare, affect and lead students in the study of literature and help them find their own creativity’ through the exploration of sensory perception.

Teacher training and EAP: developing a framework for online training by James Lambert (University of Leicester): This session was about a programme I have been working on from design to implementation but it was worth seeing how the audience responded to James presentation. He discussed the ‘challenges and opportunities in delivering teacher training online, through consideration of the development of the PG Cert in Teaching English for Academic Purposes’. He looked at ‘reference works, web tools and interactions and shared ‘practical examples of an online course in action’.

Plenary session by Harry Kuchah – ELT in difficult circumstances: Challenges, possibilities and future directions. Harry is a fellow Hornby alumni and we have been friends for a while now so I cannot express my delight in seeing him as an IATEFL Plenary Speaker. Harry talked about the teaching conditions in sub-Saharan Africa and the ‘existing challenges to classroom practice such as over-crowded and multigrade classrooms, lack of textbooks, lack of libraries, poor exposure to the English language usage, lack of financial and material resources and other cultural constraint.’ He argued that, ‘Despite these challenges, the dominant discourse on ELT methodology promoted in such contexts is still being largely generated in ideal (North) contexts and sometimes resisted by local practitioners as not sufficiently appropriate for their challenging local realities’. His presentation was inspiring and eye-opening. Well-done Harry!

Also on the spotlight:

Poster Presentation –  Peacebuilding and grammar acquisition in Kurdistan Region, IraqLone Bendixen Goulani (University of Kurdistan – Hewler): Lone was one of our first TEAP trainee teachers at Leicester and she came to the conference as a British Council Scholarship winner. In her poster presentation she ‘described how peacebuilding can be used to contextualise grammar teaching’ and ‘how teaching grammar in a local context, such as peace and conflict in Iraq, can enhance not only the students’ motivation and understanding of using relevant grammar, but also make both teachers and students reflect upon their own role in peacebuilding in society.’

The ELTJ debate on Testing: brilliantly conducted by Graham Hall and argued by both speakers. However, Graham is a consummate liar 🙂 – it was obvious that Richard Smith won that one! 🙂

The British Council Evening Event: brilliantly organized and a great opportunity to network. Special kudos for the choice of venue: the magnificent upper rooms of Manchester Town Hall.

Apologies to all my friends whose presentations I missed for various reasons – believe me I am the one on the loss. Specially sad for missing the Extensive Reading Foundation Award Ceremony always superbly organized by Philip Prowse and The Fair List Event organized by Tessa Woodward.

For interviews, video sessions and much more, please visit Manchester Online – there is still time to catch up with what you may have missed too.