At times I had the familiar feeling stemming from having chosen a talk from a menu: am I in the right session? But mostly the conference was as good as ever, inspiring me until my brain was numb at 6 o’clock every day.
Paula Rebolledo’s plenary on Teacher Empowerment got the conference off to a good start, and much will have been written elsewhere about this, so I’ll just say my training takeaway is that I’ll ask teachers I train the same Paula asked us: their perceptions of empowerment.
One of the standout sessions of the week was Melissa Lamb’s on CELTA: ‘What if we took away input?’ The question arose from the premise that understanding input requires lower order thinking skills and that then processing what they’ve been told and turning it all into logically-planned lessons required HOTS. So they need the scaffolding and support of tutors for the latter. Input was therefore flipped and contact time used for planning workshops and teaching skills workshops. Trainees could set their own goal for the workshop, try things out with peers, make board plans and plan the lesson together. After TP, the written feedback would direct a trainee to a part of the input site, e.g. the monitoring section if that’s a development need. Trainees were less stressed than usual and the assessor’s take was that all was well.
Unusually this time, I found I’d inadvertently chosen more aimed at teachers than training-focussed talks, which I’ll mention here as I see a use in the training room. There emerged a general thread around the learner learning the language s/he needs and wants for self expression:
– Neil McCutcheon, talking about TBLT, reminded us that it’s meaning first, that the student’s own language that’s at the centre and that prioritising the task not language input allows this. Working with a recording of the task performance to encourage ss to notice language structures used is an important stage. Jane Willis in her session echoes a point made here that language input should not be before task preparation as then that would be the student’s main focus in doing the task.
– going next to Piers Messum’s session on teachable moments continued this message and Piers told us ‘an answer is only an answer if we have the question within us, quoted Immordino-Yang “it’s impossible to think deeply about information about which you have no emotion because a healthy brain doesn’t waste energy that doesn’t matter to the individual”, there can be self expression without communication when, for example, you form inside what you want to say but don’t say it because the conversation moves on…forming that message from inside is what we want our learners to do…so teachable moments come when learners have something they want to express but they can’t find the language to communicate it’
– Adrian Underhill quoted Dὅrnyei: ‘ensure learning is meaning focussed and personally significant’ and said this is difficult in CLT because there’s not the personal significance, just because a topic’s about the learner’s life, it doesn’t mean they find it significant. We need to allow learner to express what they’re internally moved to say and maybe when our class ‘goes well’ it’s because learners have been expressing themselves. I think: TBL. A topic could appear as expression happens. I think: dogme, as I do also in Chaz Pugliese’s session on Breaking Rules. Through the three sessions, I’m thinking of the reformulation I do and here Adrian mentions language upgrade as enhancing the self expression.
– Andy Jeffrey encouraged students to find their own texts and language snippets outside class. The language/topics studied recently appear in a menu bar on a site on Slack and students posted these snippets as photos e.g. use of prepositions they’ve found on a juice carton. To foster learner independence, he trains them to analyse language by posing questions of it: what’s a synonym? Antonym? Is it informal? What are the collocations? Etc. Student feedback included ‘I know how to study for myself now, I’m motivated when I see colleagues working on my picture’.
– I found a link between this and Andrea Borsato’s session: ‘The Lexical Notebook as a Gateway to Autonomous Learning’. The key here was that filling the lexical notebook happened as much outside class as in. Following Krashen’s second best way to learn, extensive reading, Andrea shared with us the idea of mixing this with ‘lexical reading’. His students read (or listen) and when they come to a word/chunk they like/are interested in, they underline it (or note it with the time on the recording) but importantly don’t stop, then they go back and look them up, exploring collocation and colligation in a corpus…and record it in their notebooks. Days later, they revise the lexis and this time read/listen again purely extensively, for enjoyment.
Another great IATEFL, another sad moment leaving only lessened by the thought that I might be back next year.