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miércoles, 11 de abril de 2018

IATEFL2018-April 10th - DAY 1

April 10th 2018
First day of the conference. To our great surprise and pleasure, my roommates and I discovered that the plenary session, as well as a great part of the conference was being held in the building where we are living.

The day started with Lourdes Ortega’s plenary session on Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Research. Apart from debunking long held popular beliefs by presenting the results of academic and scientific research. She stated, for example, that it is not true that learning a foreign language earlier inlife is better for language acquisition. She contrasted theory and practice in a wide range of aspects and wondered whether  in the ELT area this activity should be called research, enquiery or exploratory Action Research.

After this , as I am especially interested in research lately, I went to see the showcase of The Champions Teachers Programme,which is a project sponsored by the British Council in Chile, and which presented its printed book on that day. The main difficulties for Action research is to choose a topic and to make the right questions. Richard Smith and Paula Rebolledo role  played how a mentor should ask questions, so later the audience did the same in pairs. The idea is to spread the possibility for teachers to do Action Research, as a way of improving education.

My next session was Chris Strawson’s ”Seeing the woods for the trees. Rethinking prescriptive Teacher Training”. The presentation focused on short courses, like Celta. He considersthat in these courses trainees have to be made to practice as soon as possible, and they need to be taught PPT methodology at the beginning of their course, to later introduce them to other methods. The focus has to ba laid on universal key concepts, like error correction, context, unifying theme, authentic model and clear instructons. What I thought that was interesting was his distinction between feedback and feedforward.
Scott Thornbury explored what makes a good language learner in his talk  “Hyperpoliglots, what can they teach us?” As I myself am a good language learner, I am happy to check that good language learners do what I have intuitively done since I was a child. Good language learners use certain strategies, such as memorizing texts or dialogues, memorizing chunks (I could hear myself repeating whole chunks of my German book introductory paragraph.), they use translation and reversr translation, and they (or we) distribute practice and use mnemonics. There are affective factors that influence the success in learning a language, such as self confidence and ego permeability. In conclusion, good language learners are good sources of information to orient language learners how to do it better.

After this I had the plearsure of listening to Marina Gonzalex, who offered a very clear and enlightening talk on how she runs  the language department of the university where she works. Based on sound theoretical background, she made a thorough analysis of the different stages the managing of this department went through, and how she had to change the strategies in order to survive in the organization. Theory, in Marina’s words, is context dependent, and a strategic manager has to be human and technical at the same time.

After visiting the forum on CPD, I rushed to Ambassador room to see Virginia Lopez Grisolia, who talked about the role of Grammar in BELF perspective. Being a Grammar professor at the most prestigious Teacher Training Colleges in Argentina and a businesss English trainer, she is in a privileged position to make a deep analysis of what it is that business English trainees need in times in which English is a lingua franca rather than a second or a foreign language. Language in Business English is a means of intercultural communication, and this is central for the business English trainer to understand. Accuracy has to give room to fluency,intelligibility and flexibility. BELF (Business English as a Lingua Franca) calls for flexible teachers, but although many of them seem to be receptive to this new conception of  the language, they do not put it into practce and, therefore, continue teaching the way they were taught to do it.

I had a rest and then, my favourite part of the conference came. The Pecha Kucha is a good chance to relax and have some fun. The topics ranged from the envitonment to powerpoint presentations. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed it a lot.

This was the wonderful end of my first IATEFL2018 day. A day in which I met people, I walked several kilometres in corridors and between the Hilton hotel and the Brighton Centre, a day for learning and for celebrating our profession.

lunes, 9 de abril de 2018

IATEFL 2018 Pre-conference event-LAM + TD (Leadership and management and Teacher Development)

April 9th 2018
I have just returned from my first approach to the 2018 IATEFL Conference, and I must say that I am exhausted and happy. I attended a Pre-conference Event, as the real conference starts tomorrow.
Pre-conference events are always organized by IATEFL’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs), and this year they were held by two coordinated SIGs.  In my case, I chose the  Leadership and Management + Teacher Development PCE. It was an intense and varied day, as it was  made up of three talks, two open space events, an open mike and a closing plenary.
The first presentation was in charge of two Australian managers, Clare Magee and Fiona Wiebusch: “Harnessing individual energy to empower institutions to teacher development’. They proposed to create platforms for CPD, both digital and face-to-face ones, to empower teachers in their CPD process. They offered well grounded theory, and provided their audience with key tools to help teachers. They claim that there are three things teachers really want: time space and money, and that changes can happen, but it is not a revolution what we need, but evolution.
The second talk, “Trusting Practitioners”, was in charge of  Ed Russell. He shared the story of how he put forward a project of personal development groups in a language school where he works. With what he called an “umbrella structure”, he focused on special interests to organize events in which each teacher received the individualized help they needed. He encouraged to transform a problem into a puzzle, so that the challenge is to reframe the puzzle, rather than the problem.
After the coffee break,  Liam Tyrrell dealt with  culture change in ELT staff rooms.  He shared his experience as a manager in a language school and how he set about changing the culture of the place where he worked. He suggested that to change the culture first you have to picture the change, then to find your allies among the teachers in the staff by giving each one of them a special responsibility. In that process, you have to offer a wide variety of options, and finally, if you are going to recruit new staff, it is fundamental to hire the people you need who want to be part of that culture.
The last talk was in charge of Ania Kolbuszewska, an Polish teacher of English and school manager living in Switzerland, and who dealt with the question :  “What is there to offer teachers in the happiest country on earth?”. As this is a country where four languages are spoken, everybody speaks at least two languages, and are exposed to a high level of linguistic uncertainty when speaking the other two. This makes students anxious about being accurate, which makes them insecure. Apart from this fact she told about how as the teachers she manages are reluctant to do professional development, she decided to transform what she conducted as “workshop” into a “lab”, so that teachers felt that they could experiment freely.  This involved re-routing CPD, which involves understanding and respect.
After these talks, we were invited to post a question or a concern on a paddle wall. After all of us had done this, the coordinators divided the questions into 6 main concerns (management, motivation, collaboration, responsibility, awareness and impact of CPD), and each one of the participants got together in their group and discussed these issues. This was a welcome and enriching experience, which allowed us to know about different realities, coincidences and contrasts. At the end, each group shared the conclusions of their discussion.
After a spicy and long expected lunch break, there was another open space, in which the old groups evolved into new topics, while others disappeared.  This was followed by an open mike session, where all the participants shared their impressions on the highlights and main issues they had been discussing about.
The event closed, after an ice cream break, with Christian Tiplady (TDSIG )and Jenny Johnson (LAMSIG) talking about the conclusions that this day had brought about. One of their thoughts was that at “if managers do not smell of learning, teachers will not want to learn.”
This was a great experience, because of the SIG itself, but also because of the networking mingling opportunities that the open space sessions allowed. I met Raul, from Brazil, who teaches English in Finland. I met Katherine, a Ukranian teacher I had met three years ago in Birmingham and who is part of the LAM Sig. I met some Argentinian colleagues, I learnt about their environment and  their concerns. And I had an ice-cream with Adrian Underhill! It was a highly profitable day of professional development about professional development.

domingo, 8 de abril de 2018


This year I will attend the IATEFL Conference for the third time. Not so many years ago, this was only a dream for me, and I have made it not once, not twice, but three times.  The first year  I won a scholarship, and I enjoyed the experience of presenting for an international audience. For the first time in my life, I was speaking English because it was necesary.  English was the only means of communication, it was the lingua franca. If I spoke Spanish there, nobody would understand me. This seems to be obvious, but it is not obvious for all those of us who  have always talked in English to people who could have understood if we spoke our native language.

The following year, after pondering and evaluating, I decided to go to Glasgow. I wanted to live the thrill again. I needed to share again.  This conference couldn’t start without me. And that is how I invested a good portion of my salary to live the thrill again. And I did. And it was worth it!

This year, Im ready for Brighton. Social media, similar interests, the passion for what we do has connected me to a lot of people who I am going to meet again in Brighton. And we are making plans, and we are eager, and we are waiting.

Sometimes I wonder,  why is it that English teachers are so enthusiastic about professional development? I should say that it is because teaching English is much more than teaching a language. It is about teaching a lingua franca,  and a style, and a means of communicating with different cultures, and the language of business, and the language of pop and rock cultures, and the language that opens doors for job  opportunities. So, to teach English makes us think of the most diverse issues like inclusion, heterogeneous classrooms, learners of all ages, vulnerable contexts and privileged ones.  And we study how humans make meaning, how the verb, and how the noun, and how the tone, and how the style…  We are teachers of English as a lingua Franca, and some of us are are concerned about technology, others about the discrimination of non native speakers of English, others about  students with special needs, others about  professional development, business English, and I  could go on.

That is why what we breathe in these conferences is good energy, the energy given by passion, an energy that is copied and pasted in other conferences around the globe, big and small, where we can find passionate teachers. At IATEFL I have met a Russian teacher who transformed Shakespeare into a fortune teller, a Pakistani teacher who could turn a story into a magical tool, a Brazilian teacher who designed a method to help  blind students to learn, and I have seen dozens of teachers eager to share what they had been working on.

So, tomorrow starts the new adventure. Tomorrow starts the 52nd IATEFL Conference and Exhibition in Brighton.  Let the show begin.