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#IATEFL Liverpool 2013 – The “people people’s” conference

Old friends shaking handsOxford teacher trainer, Veríssimo Toste, reflects on his experience of the IATEFL conference in Liverpool.

It has now been several weeks since I was in Liverpool for the IATEFL conference. I have had time to catch up on work and to get back into my daily routine. This week I took out my conference bag and leafed through the various pages of notes, hand-outs, and promotional materials I collected during the week. I found myself reflecting on the conference and how much I had enjoyed it.

It was simply a pleasure to be around so many teachers. Listening to them talk about their students was both inspiring and highly motivating. Some of the ideas I wanted to try out for myself, and tell others about. There were ideas I already knew about but was amazed by what other people had done with them. More important was the excitement and enthusiasm with which I was told these stories. Being a great fan of class libraries, I was especially thrilled to hear how different teachers use readers around the world. I came out of each conversation feeling overjoyed about working in ELT.

I also realised I had learned about some possible future trends in ELT. I appreciated the focus on demanding more from students as a way to motivate them. This seemed to be a theme for many speakers – easy success is not much of a success at all. Many sessions focussed on how to help students succeed, including critical thinking skills, the use of technology, or the flipped classroom, among many other strategies – ideas that put the learner at the centre of their learning.

Unlike previous years, the different sessions I attended on technology seemed to emphasize learning more than the technology itself. Whether it was for improving pronunciation, for helping students with critical thinking skills, or for learning outside the classroom, it seemed to me that this year’s sessions recognised that technology is just another tool to support learning and that the aim is not simply the use of the technology itself.

I thought about this as I rummaged through my conference bag and realised the ideas and trends were not what made this conference special for me. I have come away from previous conferences with new ideas. I have always talked to teachers and felt good about sharing ideas. So, what made this conference stand out for me?

It took me a while to realise what I especially liked about this conference – and it finally dawned on me over dinner with friends. It was talking to people from all over the world. What a privilege! To share ideas with a university teacher from Colombia on classroom observation; to talk to a teacher trainer from Turkey who was nervous about doing her first IATEFL session; to meet people who I consider friends, although we only meet at the conference each year.

ELT people are ‘people people’ – they enjoy each other’s company and talking about what they do. I am delighted to be part of such a group. Bring on IATEFL Harrogate 2014!


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Getting the hares back in the race

Student asleep in classAhead of his talk at IATEFL Liverpool, Edmund Dudley looks at ways of motivating certain difficult types of teenage learners.

I have two types of teenage student.

First, there are the tortoises. They feel they do not have enough English lessons in a week. Whatever their level of English might be, they feel it is not good enough – or that they will never be good enough to have a conversation with a native speaker or to enjoy a film in English. They feel slow and awkward.

I know how to work with this kind of student – and how important it is to be patient, encouraging and supportive. I think we all do.

What about the second type?

The second type are the hares. They are the ones who feel that they have too many English lessons in a week. They are happy with their level of English – in fact, they are in a kind of comfort zone. They can speak well in class – when they feel like it. They watch films and TV series in English outside class without much difficulty. They like and value English. They just don’t want to spend time studying  English in class. They would rather sleep!

Does that sound familiar?

If so, here are some questions to consider. What is the best way to work with teenagers like this? How can we get them out of their comfort zone? Is there any way to help them rediscover their appetite for learning English? How can we get them back in the race?

Over the years I have had to work with a lot of hares. It is quite a challenge.

Tortoises tend to be pretty hard on themselves; hares, on the other hand, give themselves an easy ride. In order to motivate them, we need to be able devise tasks and activities that appeal to their sense of challenge, relevance, value and novelty.

My session will consider these key concepts in the context of the classroom and will illustrate  them with practical examples taken from my own classroom in Pécs, Hungary.

So what can you expect?

Challenge

We will look at an innovative way of getting students to give presentations in class. Prepare for PowerPoint shows as you have never seen them done before!

Relevance

Can I get a witness? How accurate would you be if you had to give an eyewitness account? There will be a chance for you to test your own powers of observation – and hear about an idea that will put your students in the witness box.

Value

‘What do you want to do?’ is a question frequently associated with the learner-centred teacher. I will be trying to put a new spin on this question, to give it new significance by sharing a simple but striking way to highlight community connections and promote real awareness among students.

Novelty

Try talking about learning strategies and study skills to your students – and watch their eyes glaze over. I will be sharing a novel technique for displaying notes and answering language questions that help students to go with the flow.

So whether your teenage students are tortoises, hares – or a combination of both – I hope there will be something in the workshop to help keep them in the race!

Ideas and activities in the session will be linked to OUP’s insight series.

Edmund Dudley will be talking about High-Achieving Secondary Students: An Insight into Motivation and Challenge at IATEFL Liverpool on Thursday 11th April in Hall 13 at 2:45pm. You can also find him at Ed in the crowds, his personal blog.


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Teaching EAP: “We can’t do what we do at higher levels at lower levels”

Two men talking over coffeeAhead of his talk at IATEFL, Edward de Chazal presents a revealing look at how we can teach at lower levels.

“When it comes to teaching EAP we can’t we do what we do at higher levels at lower levels, right?”

Well, I think we can – what exactly “can’t we do”?

“Where do I start? First of all texts – how can B1 students read authentic academic texts? They’re too hard.”

They certainly can be, but it depends on your choice of text. Some texts are just fine for B1 students to work with, like IB – International Baccalaureate – textbooks, which are aimed at 16 – 18 year old students. They don’t assume too much knowledge. And you can use undergraduate textbook extracts, too.

“Aren’t they a bit difficult?”

OK, they can be challenging, but students can do a lot with them if you provide the right tasks.

“What sort of tasks?”

Achievable ones. If we provide the right staging, scaffolding, and support we can use authentic tasks based round authentic texts at B1.

“Authentic texts and tasks?”

We can keep the texts authentic. There’s no need to change the language in the texts. Just work out a staged sequence of tasks which lead to a specific learning outcome.

“Can you give an example?”

Let’s look at what EAP students need to do. They need to be able to read authentic texts in order to learn more about the topic of the text, understand the purpose of the text, work out the main points – and differentiate the main points from the examples in the text, identify the writer’s stance…

“Hold on. Are you telling me your B1 students can do all that with authentic academic texts?”

Absolutely. And more. You can do all this if you grade the tasks, but not the texts, just as Grellet said back in 1981.

“Yes, but what sort of tasks?”

Let’s go back to basics. Break down the learning outcome into stages. Let’s say it’s day one and you have a new class of B1 students who are studying EAP for the first time. You want your students to gain an overview of an academic text and identify the topic and main ideas.

“OK. How?”

I’ll talk you through the stages. Task 1 – get your students thinking and talking about their reading. What sort of texts do they read in English? Do they enjoy reading? Task 2 – prepare to read by looking at definitions of one or two technical terms in the text. These are authentic tasks because we normally approach a new text with some understanding of the technical concepts in the text, like ‘cognitive psychology’ for example. I would probably look them up in the dictionary.

“I see. What next?”

Task 3 – get to grips with what the topic, purpose, and main idea are. In any text.

“How?”

Start with plenty of support. Ask students to match these items with their descriptions. Then go through each one in turn, based on a short text extract. As I said, an IB text works well at this level. Again you can give simple choices, like differentiating the main idea from an example.

“Sounds good. But students need to get a bit deeper into the text.”

Sure. Which leads to Task 4 – reading in detail to understand the key information in the text. Students can complete notes on the text. This is a nicely supported task, as students can see what they are aiming for. They can then use their notes to explain the key terms in the text – that’s Task 5. Having to explain something to someone else is a brilliant way of learning, and the teacher can check their learning while they are doing this task.

“Right. You mentioned that it was a short text. How can they apply these tasks to longer texts?”

Good question. By repeating core tasks, students gradually learn to access and process information in new, more challenging texts. Actually, Task 6 in my example is to predict the content of a new text, which supports students in identifying the topic and main idea in each paragraph.

“But does this work?”

Absolutely. Students have plenty of support. There’s even a glossary with each text to help them with difficult words and concepts – just like academic textbooks.

“So, you’re saying when we’re teaching EAP, we really can do what we do at higher levels at lower levels.”

Yes, we can!

Edward de Chazal will be talking about EAP at Lower Levels at IATEFL Liverpool on Thursday 11th April in Hall 4b at 10:35am.


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Child-friendly Placement Testing

Girl sat at computer smilingAhead of her talk at IATEFL Liverpool, Amy Malloy takes a look at the importance of child-friendly placement testing. Amy is an Assessment Manager in the Test Development Unit at OUP, specialising in young learner assessment.

Young learner assessment is becoming an increasing issue in primary language teaching. Parents, fellow teachers, and educational authorities all want more and more information on the standard of English of children under their care.

In a world where language testing is becoming increasingly important, with decisions on scores being potentially career-defining for both teenagers and adults, we have a responsibility as educators to ensure that this pressure does not begin to impact upon younger learners.

We can do this in three ways:

1. By finding ways to assess our young students’ language ability in a low-pressure, fun, enjoyable way in the classroom. Research has shown that young learners actually produce and respond to language better when they are having fun.

2. By ensuring that any information learned from this assessment is used to target our teaching to each individual child’s ability. This can increase the child’s motivation and maximise learning outcomes.

3. By understanding more about the different types of assessment tools at our disposal and what they should be used for. We believe that accurate and reliable assessment can be integrated into everyday classroom teaching, as part of an enjoyable and positive experience for young learners, rather than causing anxiety.

The best place to start is with accurate placement at the start of the year. By creating a fun placement lesson at the start of a course or school year, not only do the children start off motivated and engaged, but you also gain accurate information with which to confidently plan and customise your teaching for the term or year, which in turn serves to maintain motivation.

My presentation at IATEFL Liverpool will take a workshop format, looking at different types of assessment tools and the information they can give us, how to create a positive placement testing experience in the classroom, and finally, ways to integrate the new online Oxford Young Learners Placement Test into an engaging first lesson of your children’s school year or language course.

Amy Malloy will be talking about Child-friendly Placement Testing at IATEFL Liverpool on Wednesday 10th April in Hall 14 at 3.05pm.


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The pitfalls of exam preparation

Girl sat at desk writingAhead of his talk at IATEFL Liverpool, Zoltan Rezmuves looks at some of the tough choices that must be made when preparing students for exams.

What’s your main goal in teaching English? You’ll probably say something along the lines of “enabling students to communicate well in English” and perhaps also “developing students to be better people“. But have you ever had a group of students preparing for an examination? Then you know that your success or failure will be measured not by how well they can express themselves in real life, and not even by how well they fit into society. Where there is an important exam at the end of the process, you can only succeed if your students pass the exam. It’s that simple. But what does this mean in terms of classroom practice?

EXAM PREPARATION TO-DO LIST

1. You will have to cover the exam syllabus (the topics, the grammar and vocabulary, the skills and sub-skills), and make sure you don’t miss out anything.

2. You will have to familiarise your students with all the exam task types, and provide them with strategies to complete each type of task with maximum efficiency.

3. You will have to familiarise your students with the assessment criteria – so they know how to maximise their point scores, and how to avoid losing valuable points.

4. You will have to provide students with practice and rehearsal opportunities, so when they get to the real exam, it’s not their first time completing it.

The above is just a rough shortlist of tasks for you. Can you think of other things students will expect of you?

To continue with the same train of thought, what does this mean in terms of what you’re NOT going to do in the classroom?

EXAM PREPARATION NOT-GOING-TO-DO LIST

1. You are not going to cover language points that aren’t required in the exam. Students probably won’t mind. But don’t forget that often we only teach language points because we know they’re going to be tested. Throughout my career as a learner, there has always been a massive emphasis on irregular verbs. They are certainly useful, but the reason we spent so much time memorising long lists of them was merely because they were going to feature in our exams. Think about this – is there any language you’d skip or spend less time on if it wasn’t in the exam?

2. You are going to prioritise the task types that do occur in the exam over those that don’t – which means you’re probably going to reduce task type variety. You feel responsible for your students’ success, so you make sure their exposure to exam expectations is maximised. When it comes down to a choice between, say, an open personalised speaking task and another multiple-choice gap fill, perhaps you’re going to go for the gap fill… again.

3. In order to prepare your students well and to make sure you’re not leaving even your weakest student behind, you’re going to spend a lot of time focusing on what’s needed for the exam. When pressed for time, you are not going to do too many activities which have no connection to the exam. This includes games, drama, discussion of controversial / intriguing (depending on your viewpoint) subjects, jokes and humour in general… can you continue this list? Exams are neutral, non-controversial, and let’s face it, pretty bland. Which is fine because tests are measurement tools, and it’s important to reduce unwanted extra factors, like emotional responses. But bear in mind that “pretty bland” is exactly the opposite of what language classes should be! How are you going to motivate students if you’re spending so much time doing stuff that isn’t motivating?

What I’m saying is that our general aims in language teaching and the aims of exam preparation are linked, but sometimes their priorities clash, and it will be up to you to strike the right balance and to blend learning for real life and exam preparation.

Zoltan Rezmuves will be talking about Speaking and Writing in Exam Training: Blended Solutions at IATEFL Liverpool on Wednesday 10th April in Hall 4b at 11:40am.

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