How to ‘cut-up’ & creatively use the IATEFL 2017 conference programme

When we attend conferences, it’s quite normal to receive a lot of paraphernalia. Typically, the conference programme or schedule is part of that.

The chances are, that you’ll feverishly look through the list of presentations to see what might be of interest and worth watching. In fact you may not even look at it again. This does happen. However, there’s a lot of useful information in these publications that have taken hours to put together.

As a blogger who is in fact ‘attending’ the conference remotely, I’ve been thinking about how I can use the pdf version I’ve downloaded perhaps in a different way.

Just to let you know, that I do have nerdish tendencies, but by no means am I going to be reading all 250 pages of the programme! My reading strategy is going to be strictly ‘skimming and scanning’!

So here are a few tips on how to use the conference programme:

1) Networking: 

There are a lot of people in the EFL/ESL field who have a vast array of interests. Many of us may have similar and common interests, and there’s a lot we can learn from others. So what I do, is note down names of people who might be presenting something that I have a passion for and try to connect with them later. It’s a great way to exchange ideas and motivate ourselves by connecting with others.

2) Presentation ideas: 

There are literally tons of presentations during IATEFL 2017. What I tend to do is quickly scan through the topics being presented (hopefully the title will tell me what the presentation is about), and then collect ideas from these to help me perhaps present something in my own context, or at least have a list of ideas for potential future presentations. There is by no means anything wrong with this. I use these to give me ideas. These act as ‘take-off’ points for me to develop something later. You could discover an idea that could be presented next year at IATEFL 2018.

3) Research ideas: 

I often have people coming to me asking me about research ideas for their project proposals. I usually shrug my shoulders. I fervently believe that people need to decide for themselves what they want to research, after all, at least in my experience, passion is a necessary ingredient before plunging into the ‘research pool’. Just by scanning through the list of presentations, plenaries, or even  topics presented by various SIGs (Special Interest Groups), or organisations, there’s plenty to help you on your way to starting your research project. By the way, a research project can be something that will end up with something to discuss with your colleagues at work, a presentation in your own context, perhaps an article for an ELT magazine, or if you’re more ambitious, and academically minded, perhaps something relating to a course you are doing, for example an MA or a PhD, or even something for a journal article.

4) New knowledge:

There is a high probability that you are an experienced individual who has a lot to offer, In fact, it’s possible that you feel you should be presenting something, yet you aren’t. May be it’s worth thinking about IATEFL 2018.

However, I’m one of those people who’s hungry to learn more. There is too much happening to just bury my head in the sand and rest on my laurels. I find that quite often, reading through the presentation abstracts (this is after I’ve scanned, skimmed and located what really takes my fancy!) I come across new ideas or areas that I had never thought of. Perhaps I’m comfortable with the knowledge I have, but it’s still worth taking a step out of my comfort zone. Be adventurous, and consider visiting a presentation about something you’ve never looked at closely. Perhaps this could ignite a new interest, or lead to something even better. Even if you’re at a distance, it’s worth googling the net and finding out more about newer topics. Who knows, you could become the next guru of an area just by taking that brave step into the unknown.

5) Cutting up the IATEFL 2017 programme

This may seem rather odd, but I mean it. Depending on how advanced your class is, there is the possibility of using the programme as a basis for some classroom material (of course after the conference is over!).

My judgement is that we’re looking at mid level to advanced student who could benefit from the materials in some way. How could we use the content to make learning more interesting in the classroom?

I’m sure that people are thinking that we can create materials for lower level learners too. Yes, you could probably use the pictures and illustrations for a variety of activities, but then you’re the expert. You probably have zillions of ideas that are worth doing and even sharing. I’m just trying to facilitate a brain storming exercise here.

Other stuff?

Knowing that this blog has become somewhat lengthy, I’ll stop here.

That’s my brief list of ideas. Perhaps you can think of other creative ways to use the IATEFL 2017 programme in addition to just using it during the conference. May be you could suggest them below?

To download the programme you can go to the following link:

http://conference.iatefl.org/programme.html

All the best!

 

 

 

 

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

Declaration: The article below is not mine, and is taken from:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/

by Gretchen Reynolds

However, it’s a great up-to-date topic to discuss with your students when discussing health etc. I also want to reveal that I’ve put it up here so that I can keep referring to it! Even old fogies can dream! Let’s get the Play Station generation up and about!

This column appears in the May 12 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put the newest fitness research into practice.

An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

“There’s very good evidence” that high-intensity interval training provides “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time,” says Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of the new article.

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even more, he says, it’s accomplished by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.

A version of this article appeared in print on 05/12/2013, on page MM20 of the New York edition with the headline: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.

Assessment without numbers

What does a number mean? If someone gets 80 on the TOEFL iBT what does it actually mean? Is someone who gets 85 better that someone who got 80? Really? How?

What about in the classroom? You give students a score out of 10, 15, 20 etc, but what does the score really mean? What does good, very good or excellent mean? Do we really know what we mean? Do the students understand what the scores mean, or even these expressions?

What if scores were totally replaced by descriptions or descriptors? What if we gave a student a description of what they had achieved?

Are we giving students marks, because that’s the way it’s always been? Or may be this is also a reflection of our educational backgrounds as well as the undergraduate and graduate courses we’ve taken. After all, we probably also got scores or grades.

And what about the usefulness of assessment. What can we do to make students more aware and at the same time get them to do something about their learning?

It might require us as teachers to also take a closer look at what we mean, and/or what our students are really doing. But may be we just don’t have the time?

So there are a lot of questions here, a lot of elements, what now?

Well, what do you think? What do you do? How can we reinvent testing and assessment?

I’m hoping to add future posts to the questions above.

Teaching very very weak students how to write

picture source: emiller27.wordpress.com

How many times have you ended up with a class of students who seem to be well below the level required for a particular class?

They cannot seem to comprehend what you say (listening and vocabulary knowledge?), and are unable to respond when you speak to them. They seem to lack basic words, and yet you have to teach them how to write a 5 paragraph essay!

You have a course schedule with a number of units to cover within a finite period of time. You cannot at this point resort to teaching them grammar and improving their lexis.  Admittedly the latter is easier to do than the former.

They also seem to have a problem when it comes to brainstorming, and seem to lack ideas. May be the ideas are there for a restricted list of topics, as they have probably not had to talk about societal issues. I’m assuming that if ideas exist, they are unable to convey these as those ideas can only be conveyed in their L1.

Strategy so far

I’ve been focussing on ensuring that the students internalise the framework of an essay. What I mean is, the idea of having introductions, body paragraphs and a conclusion, and the sub-levels for these important pillars of an essay, e.g. a hook, thesis statement and supporting ideas.

In every class, we have a new topic or topics, and a brainstorming session. This is followed by trying to fit the ideas into the framework. Which of course is then followed by adding meat to this skeleton. This is a good way to introduce new vocabulary. Throughout this period, I’ve been acting ‘all enthusiastic’ as if I’m some kind of football team manager/ motivator.

In addition to the above, I’ve come to the conclusion, that in order to get the attention of the students, we need to brainstorm topics that they can relate to, or are close to their hearts.

I’ve covered topics like ‘finding a marriage partner’, ‘why a certain famous person is famous’ and even how to make ‘rice and meat’ also known as kabsa! I’ve been amazed at the attention the students give, and how familiar, interesting topics engage them. You can see their eyes light-up and of course the smirks when I try to introduce some ‘silly’ topic.

How are we progressing? Well, the prognosis is, that irrespective of how well the student understands the framework, or likes the topic under discussion, if the message cannot be conveyed, which requires a reasonable level of language, then the chances of success are low. Ultimately, the reader needs to understand the message being conveyed. Being able to piece together accurate sentences with appropriate vocabulary is a necessity. Even part accurate will do. But we are even below that. You know how serious word order problems, along with inappropriate vocabulary can just totally confuse the reader.

I’m sure there are ways that others deal with such difficulties, but when you are teaching a 2-3 credit hour course over a semester, it can be difficult to do anything extra. I have asked them to revise certain tenses they may have studied as part of a grammar course in the past. But should I be following this up? There’s little time.

All of the above obviously brings up issues relating to teaching, learning and assessment issues. Issues that I’ll try to discuss in the future. My final thoughts link in to these issues.

Final thoughts: Who let these students pass the previous courses? They could not possibly have passed looking at their current performance. What were they being taught before and how? What kind of assessment was going on, and using what standard? Is the context a major problem, and do we need to take a closer look at this?

All the best.

‘Kosher English’ lessons for Israel’s ultra orthodox

Source: Guardian Weekly TEFL update: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/18/elt-diary-september?CMP=EMCGUWEML335

This news report has been ‘lifted’ from the Guardian Weekly TEFL update (link above). Hats off to the Jerusalem Post Group for starting ‘Kosher English’. May be we should have ‘Halal English?’ – Just a thought.  Many could identify with the idea stated by a member of the editorial team i.e. “The challenge is not only to keep the principles of Halacha, such as modesty and avoid lashon hara[slanderous talk], but also to strengthen faith in Hashem and learn English at the same time.”

Article below:

Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community is being offered a new way to learn English: a weekly magazine written in simplified English with Hebrew glossaries and overseen by a religious committee of rabbis and Jewish educators.

The magazine, called Kosher English, is published by the Jerusalem Post Group, and contains local and international news stories as well as articles specially for the ultra-orthodox community.

The editorial team are members of the haredi community. The editor, Tami Kalish, told the Jerusalem Post: “The idea was to create a newspaper for haredim in easy English. The challenge is not only to keep the principles of Halacha, such as modesty and avoid lashon hara[slanderous talk], but also to strengthen faith in Hashem and learn English at the same time.”

Early editions of the magazine have been serialising the bestselling autobiography by Rabbi Aharon Margalit, As Long as I Live, which, Kalish said, describes the difficulties in his life that he overcame thanks to his strong faith.

Kosher English: http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/KosherEnglish.aspx

 

Jumping around like a monkey and trying to motivate the unmotivateable

The title is I must admit a bit harsh (does the word unmotivateable exist?), but in a way describes the context I found myself in the other day.

From a language instructor background, I’m used to ‘jumping around like a monkey’.

Most language instructors try hard to get the attention of their students, trying to get them involved in class activities, with the goal that by the end of the class they will have taken another step in their language learning. When I see a student yawn, I feel the need to access my ‘teaching strategy file’ in that upper stratum we call the brain!

The other day, I was facing a group of BA English students. I had been placed within a ‘lecturing environment’ where as one of the students told me, “teacher we are used to listening, not speaking. We just take notes.”

Tasked with having to teach modals (I was teaching grammar of course) I was faced with a bleary-eyed group of young to mature adult males.It was also late afternoon – 5.30 pm to be exact.

After a few minutes, I realised that my students were not only having difficulty with the concept, they did not seem to understand what I was saying!! When I asked them a question, all I got was silence.

What now I thought as I rubbed my chin and raised one eyebrow (in a James Bond like fashion of course).

Eureka!! (I thought)

I offered to let all of my students go home if they each wrote a sentence for the words must, might, may and could.

I wrote the words on the white board, drew four columns and made my board markers available to anyone who was brave enough to come to the front and take a risk. “Even if you make a mistake, I’ll be happy, the point is to try!!”

I waited a few minutes. Two to three students (the best ones as expected) wrote four sentences each, followed by immediate feedback from yours truly. They then all went home.

After what then seemed quite a few minutes, one or two of the students came forward and started writing. They could look at their grammar book, but they had to use different vocabulary.

The students ‘I think’ had observed the other students writing, looked at what they had written, as well as my feedback, and were beginning to pick up a pattern.

Slowly but surely, some of the more shy students started coming to the front. In a way they had no choice, as the class was becoming empty as more and more of the students started leaving. I gave individual feedback and made sure all the students were watching and at the same time was rallying them to “have a go”.

The class ended at about the same time it normally would.

I was beginning to wonder. Do I have to offer them a chance to go home early in every class to get them to actually learn something or even motivate them? Remember, this was an unusually difficult situation?

And is lecturing really the right way to be teaching a second language? Obviously I can’t use this strategy all of the time.

What would you have done?