How to get the most out of this…

…conference? …blog post? …experience?

We as teachers like to ask WH-questions. WHAT did you see? WHAT did you like? WHO did you meet? WHO did you like? WHERE did you go? HOW do you like it so far?
Okay, the last question might not be one of the WH-questions, but it’s most definitely one of the questions that seem to be posed quite often at the moment. Folks, the Graz IATEFL group has officially arrived in Glasgow! (Who would have guessed? Maybe the 7 billion blogposts before mine spoiled these news a bit? Yes? No? Maybe. Also – look at me go with my WH-questions!)

So, we have finally arrived in Glasgow yesterday and today we had our first day as part of the the annual 51st IATEFL conference. Feeling energised from the atypical sunrays on our faces (see evidence no. 1, the header picture) our whole group visited the first plenary session (and the official opening of the conference), where Gabriel Diaz Maggioli spoke about Professional Development and how to achieve this in a school. Some ideas that he gave us included starting small pilot projects on our own or even creating your own Professional Development strategies that are adapted to your school’s needs and possibilities.

After this large plenary session, our group dissolved into little groupings and everyone at least tried to make the most out of this conference. (That was, by the way, the title of one of the first sessions, which nobody of our group managed to attend first thing in the morning as some difficulties arose.) I personally decided to listen to Jeremy Harmer and Jane Revell next, who did their workshop (if you can call a group of 480 people a workshop…) with the title “Telling and retelling: the magic of stories in ELT”. In this workshop, the team discussed the method of PLOT, where each letter stands for a method on how to work with stories. The P stands for Predict the story, the L correlates with Listen to (or to read) the story, the O refers to Operate on or retell the story and the T finally stands for telling your own story. So – PLOT. A nice abbreviation. We then continued talking about the movie “The Wolfpack” (which seemingly is an amazing film, also for school) and discussed the poem “The Sound Collector”, which offers a large range of activities that you can do with your students.

My next session was on Motivational Marking and the Magic Egg, held by Michael Mooney. He spoke of the magic egg process, where students don’t write about the content they want to include in their texts but rather think about the structures first before even dealing with the content. These structures, therefore, can be found in the magic egg. What I found very interesting in this session is his idea of starting to raise awareness on writing as well as the fun in writing by using a method or website called Mad Lips. Here, you get certain questions or words which you have to enter into prepared spaces. Afterwards, a classic text is rewritten and your chosen words are entered in the story. This is something that I most definitely want to try out with my students in the future!

The next amazing talk I went to was about creativity in the language classroom and how to promote creative thinking when dealing with young learners aged 5 to 12 in the beginning stage of their learning of English. The speaker offered five pillars of Creativity and an example activity for each one, which I want to quickly mention as I do believe that it is something you can use within your classroom as well.

1) Build your learners self-esteem: Here the method mentioned was the so-called CIRCLE TIME, where students sit in a circle and talk about certain topics after being presented with a prompt. (e.g. I feel happy when…)
2) Offer choices: The speakers example here was a Lesson Menu, where students can chose which tasks from a given list they want to do in school or at home as well as in which numbering
3) Use effective questions: Especially WH- questions should be asked to offer the students the best opportunities. What is important here is to allow them time to think about their answers and don’t rush them.
4) Make connections: Here you have simple comparative moments. (“A book is like a sandwich because…”)
5) Explore ideas: The main tasks with this last pillar would be an “Imagine that…” or a mini debate on a chosen topic.

Here the speaker also provided us with works where he got his information from, including a PDF document from Maley and Peachey, sporting the title “Creativity in the English Language Classroom” that can be found online.

Now you may be asking – Alex, how many more workshops did you actually go to in just one measly day? Don’t fret dear reader, there still is plenty to come. (It’s two more, don’t worry.)

The next workshop I did go to, and this time even with a colleague of mine so I wasn’t alone all the time, was a workshop by Edward de Chazal with the catchy title “Lose those words: how to write shorter, more effective texts”. (Didn’t help much, apparently.) In this workshop, we did edit a text from 300 words down to 100 words by using 7 explicit methods that you should apply to get your perfect abstract, homework or paper. His Pro Tip in the end, however, was what was the most striking to me (and not because it was the funniest part ever). If you would change the size, the font and the colour of the text, then the whole document – apparently – looks as if it were written completely now.

The last talk I did go to was on Extensive Reading and ideas on how to make that work. Sadly, because of strict time management, we did not go over the examples behind the given theory. So I cannot offer any practical advice but to let your students choose their books on their own and to make them read for fun and do not test them on how much they actually read. Also, the difficulty level should be at least one level below the actual language level to ensure fluent reading (which is established if students know 98% or more).

To conclude, this first day of my conference was tightly packed with information and courses. I am looking forward to the next sessions tomorrow. lso – we got cupcakes on our last tour around the materials fair. And they were amazing. Can you see the sheer happiness on my face? Coffee and cupcakes. Total success!

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But… How can you actually make the most out of the conference and this blog post? Well, if you have any questions or want any more details on something mentioned in the blog please do not hesitate to use the comment section or send me a quick mail and I can send you all the information that I have collected during the workshops and talks described here.

To end this blog on a lighter note I wanted to include a quotation taken from William Arthur Ward (or at least that’s what the calendar said when I read the quote on the condiments table whilst pouring myself a coffee) that fits the purpose of this blog and the conference, in my opinion:

Teaching is more than imparting knowledge, it is inspiring change. Learning is more than absorbing facts, it is acquiring understanding.

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