The 7 most important things I’ve learned at the IATEFL

With over 2500 delegates and about 600 presentations it can be quite difficult to decide what you want to do and see and you might feel like you are missing out on something when you decide for one talk and against a lot of other interesting ones. All the topics are highly interesting and the speakers are all giving their best, so the presentations, talks and workshops are all fantastic. I would like to share some of my favorite insights, talks and resources with you, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything:

1. The very first workshop I attended there was called “The Creative Thinking Gap”

and it was absolutely brilliant. We talked about what creativity is (thinking on more than one plane, connecting different ideas) and how to use it in the classroom. The speaker came in with a large wooden spoon and asked us to mime what all it could be (a lolly, a drumstick,…). Then we were supposed to imagine we are one object we own (I was my bike) and then we had an object party and had to talk to the other objects.

“Hi, I’m Anna’s bike.”

“Hello, nice to meet you. I’m Amanda’s bed. I live a happy life and I think Amanda loves me. She spends a lot of time with me.”

“Hmm I’m not sure if Anna likes me. She keeps me in a really dark and cold room all the time…”

It was really fun and I met a lot of people. Talking about the life of ones own objects was quite revealing as well. How does the person treat their object and how important is it to him or her?

The we were presented with a riddle:

I am silver and exact. 

Whatever I see I swallow immediately.

I am not cruel, only truthful.

I am important to her.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

Who am I?

Most of us concluded that a mirror was talking. A few realized that the sentences were parts of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror”.

We then kept on working with this poem and different perceptions and games. We also had to talk to our neighbors and one had to pretend to be the mirror and one was the pink wall mentioned in the poem.

It was very insightful and fun and I’m pretty sure that I will use many of the activities and the poem in my own teaching.

2. “Writing: Is little and often the best approach?”

The short answer: maybe.

The teacher talking presented us with a supported experiment in which she stopped giving the students one long writing homework once a week and instead let them write 10 minutes in class every day  for three weeks.

Longer writing seemed to be daunting for her A2+ students and they often just didn’t do the homework. In her experiment she made sure that the tasks were achievable, the students new what was asked of them, they got a lot of individual support while writing (eg writing frames), personal feedback and time to correct their work.

Her students loved it.

She ended her talk by saying that it isn’t necessarily the best approach but it is an approach that worked extremely well in her classes and she has been doing it for decades.

3. “It’s all in the song: academic skills through project-based learning” 

In this talk Chris Meoli, who seems to have the same interests as me as I feel like we’re in all the same workshops, presented a project he did with his students. He teaches in America and to get into American universities you have to be good at two things: presenting and essay writing.

His students were good at neither. Which was not surprising as his students were all dropouts from or students kicked out of other high schools. It was statistically very unlikely that they would ever make it to college.

But they loved listening to music.

So he started a song project. Every student had to pick a song and write a thesis statement. Then they had to support this statement by interpreting the lyrics. They then presented their findings in front of the class. Chris was the first to give a demo presentation and the students were supposed to analyze what made a talk good or bad. Then it was their turn. Finally, they had to turn the talk into an essay. They wrote a lot of it in class.

The students loved it and the talks and essays turned out beautifully.

Chris then presented his findings at a teaching conference – or rather, he let his students present it for him. Which then also led to them and their experiences being published in a local newspaper.

If that won’t get them into a good university, I don’t know what will.

4. “Keeping students hooked” 

was not what I expected. But in a good way. The presenter analysed the game “Candy Crush Saga” and explained why it was so addictive. Based on this, he and his team created their own addictive leraning games: Lingopolis, which is a lot like SimCity, and Wordable, which reminded me of QuizzDuell. Lingopolis can be played online and Wordable will be in the different app stores soon.

The games are well thought through and the design is beautiful. I wanted to download both immediately and will definitely play them with my students in the future.

5. “I love to move it” 

was a workshop on how to get more movement into the classroom. It was very practical and I would like to share my favorite activity with you: the snowball fight.

Everyone needs a piece of paper. You have to write down a WH question and… Then crumble and ball it up. Yes, you have to turn it into a snowball. And then you start a snowball fight.

This was so much fun.

The after a few minutes of war you pick up a random snowball and uncrumble it. Now you can read and answer the question and then turn the sentences into reported speech “Someone asked me…”

It is a quick and useful game and I think students will love it.

6. “Small talk: supporting introversion in language learning” 

was probably my favorite talk.

Our society has no place or tolerance for introverts. Many think they are not paying attention, that they are boring and/or lazy or that something is wrong with them. But this is not the case and 30-50% of the population are introverts. What does this mean?

If you talk on your phone all day, it runs out of battery and you have to recharge it. That is introverts. They spend time with people and then they need quiet alone time to recharge.

Extroverts are different. Talking and spending time with others is their way of recharging. It gives them energy.

Of course, this is not an either or situation. The whole thing is a spectrum and hardly anyone is a 100% introvert or a 100% extrovert.

Introverts do not like small talk, they like to think before they act, they need their personal space and they are often very creative.

In school however, students are often forced to be social, which is understandable. Language and communicating go hand in hand. But: when an emotional threat exists (and forced to interact with other teenagers is an emotional threat to them), the learning process halts.

So, what can we do? What changes could we make?

  1. Balanced activities – Don’t do just one type of activity. Have students do some talking, then let them reflect and do something quiet and maybe talk some more in the end.
  2. Quiet areas. Have some quiet areas in the classroom. Some students cannot concentrate when it is loud around them. It is great when they have the space to work on their tasks away from the others.
  3. Lonely/friends – Just because you are alone doesn’t mean you are lonely. If you feel like a student might be, talk to them, they might want to be left alone reading a book. They are also quite happy having only a few very close friends and don’t need many shallow ones.
  4. Preferences – ask how your students learn best
  5. Give choices
  6. Move yourself – sit in the back of the classroom. Walking past everyone and to the front of the room to talk to the teacher is a nightmare for them.
  7. Progress for grade, not participation – don’t use participation as part of your grading system
  8. Formative over summative assessment
  9. Class menu – say what you are going to do in class. They like to know what will happen.
  10. QPQA – If you ask a question, immidiatley the hand of the moxt extroverted student will shoot up. Introverts however, like to think about what they are going to say and how they want to say it. So give them time to think by pausing, asking the question again, and then listening to the answer of a student.
  11. Think-pair-share – let them think on their own and/or in pairs before they have to present their ideas to the whole class
  12. Clear roles in groups – language police,…
  13. Flipped classroom
  14. Don’t always walk over to them and don’t lean over and into their personal space.
  15. Warn of upcoming events – they like to be prepared and to know what’s going on so tell them about tests and exams and so on ahead of time.

He ended his talk with a story:

A guy goes to heaven and is offered one wish. He wishes to see the best military leader in the world. The angel says “That’s easy, just turn around.” The man sees an old guy. “But he is not a military leader. He is the baker in my old town.” “Yes, but he would have been the best military leader if someone had given him the chance to become one.”

If you are interested to learn more, you can find his PowerPoint Presentation here.

7. We are not alone.

There are a lot of us. We have a huge community which is there for us and supports us if we want to. We all struggle and it’s okay. Everyone feels inadequate sometimes. There were talks such as “Why Young Teachers Cry” – we are really not alone. There are conferences, companies that produce all kinds of books and games and so on. And we are important – teachers in Austria can often feel unappreciated. But at the conference you celebrate teachers.

The week we spent in Glasgow was really great and I am thankful for this amazing opportunity. Thank you Prof. Fürstenberg for giving us the opportunity to learn so much, listen to so many fantastic speakers and explore Scotland a bit.


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