My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 11 – Steven Thorne’s Plenary

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL Day 3 Plenary Speech by Steven Thorne

Day 3 started with IATEFL President Eric Baber giving us some important facts about this year’s conference. In addition to the acre of tree that were planted to offset IATEFL Glasgow’s carbon footprint, there were 2300 delegates, 100,000 online attendees, 26 scholarships, 5 plenaries, 14 evening events, 500 presentations, and 650 presenters in IATEFL 2012. We can only be in awe of the IATEFL organizing committee for being able to not only find a venue that could accommodate us all, but for being able to organise and run the conference so smoothly.

Like many other decisions the organizing committee made this conference, the choice of the Day 3 plenary speaker was absolutely spot-on. Steven Thorne was energetic, inspirational and had the type of enthusiasm that was catching – qualities that were clearly needed on a day when the strain of absorbing a non-stop flow of information and knowledge combined with non-stop networking and socializing only meant that most conference delegates were starting to ‘fade’.

As Steven Thorne shared with us his knowledge and research on pedagogical experimentation with technology use, such as social media, fan fiction communities, and online gaming, I realized that I was extremely honoured to be sitting beside Graham Stanley, author of the recently ELTon-nominated book, Digital Play, an excellent resource book for teachers about the use of computer games to promote ‘stealth learning’ (When learning takes place without the learner realizing it…perhaps because they were having too much fun doing so.)

Presenting under the title of ‘Awareness, Appropriacy, and Living Language Use’, Steven poses the question ‘How can we make good use of the online options available to us while being critical of its use and appropriacy?’ A tremendous amount of life learning happens in non-instructional informal organic contexts (see: stealth learning above) as humans continue to learn, change, adapt and develop throughout their lifespan. How can we incorporate this kind of learning as teachers?

As linguists, we tend to dip a ladle into the sea of language that we use and take out a bit to examine the micro-processes that help us to mean, and quoting Tomasello, Steven states that all linguistic knowledge derives from comprehension and production of specific utterances on specific occasions of use.

If the above does not convince you that Steven Thorne has Hallidayan tendencies towards Systemic Functional Linguistics, his following remark about how explicit representations and models of the world simply get in the way could leave one wondering if he is making a snide remark at the Chomskyan representation of the idealized native speaker.

However, regardless of his affiliations, one could not help but agree that it is better to use the world and authentic materials as its own model of language use. And the availability of such authentic materials for English teachers and learners with the development of the internet could only be expanding. We are in a golden age for language teaching, especially for those who teach English. Let’s consider some out-of-classroom activities and consider how we can re-mediate them for classroom use.

There are now:

  • 2.1 billion internet users worldwide;
  • 156  million accounts on Runescape;
  • 14+ million played World of Warcraft at peak;
  • Approaching 1 billion on Facebook, 800 million visits per month, 400 million visitors visit daily;
  • 200 million Twitter accounts;
  • Users of social media ‘curate’ online personas (Clive Thomson, NY Times, 2008);
  • Technology use starts early.

These numbers clearly show us how online gaming and use of online social networking is emerging. It has never been easier to communicate synchronously: text, skype, video, virtual environments, etc.

While some purport that the Internet is creating a generation of ignoramuses with tiny attention span (Andrew Keen, The Independent), others might say that it provides more opportunities for learning and cognitive development, engages players/users in settings where their collaborations matter and creates qualities in the user that are highly-esteemed in the workplace. In a clever comparison, Steven shows us how the gamer disposition matches the desirable qualities listed by the Harvard Business Review. ‘Wanna find a CEO? Find someone who manages a guild, called a guild master!’ (Knobel)

In a related dichotomy, the traditional emphases in schools tended towards analytic rigor (I am guessing they are not referring to most education systems in Asia then), epistemological and linguistic prescriptivism (high stakes tesing, written language bias). This creates a tension with the ‘open source epistemology’ of Web 2.0 (Lankshear and Knobel, 2007).

In another double-bind contraction, Steven talks about the frustration of every sociolinguist. While high stakes power genres (or what we TEFLers might call formal registers) are needed for communicating e.g. writing reports and letters, at the workplace, we also have high frequency vernaculars which are useful but often considered highly stigmatized varieties especially in schools. This includes the emergent digital vernaculars used in writing e.g. in chatrooms or online games.  Sociolinguists like Labov and Bourdieu have clearly shown how our use of language (including our accents) is a basis of being judged by others, and carries a kind of social and cultural capital upon which our ‘worth’ is determined by those around us.

Not unlike David Crystal’s ‘The Gr8 Deb8’ where he argues that contrary to what many seem to believe, text messaging language requires a kind of creativity and understanding of how language works in order to manipulate the language to produce text speak, Steven Thorne highlights the following utterance (on which a whole 10,000-word academic article has been written on) and asks for our interpretation of it.

‘afk g2g too fe to regen no poms’

Meaning ‘Away from keys, got to go to Elven Forest to regenerate, no mana potions’,

i.e. ‘Just a minute, I have to go the Elven Forest to regenerate. I’m out of mana potions.’

Referring to Malinowski, and establishing that Malinowski trained Firth, who then trained Halliday, the founder of Systemic Functional Linguistics (I knew it!), Steven Thorne states that you cannot really know what’s happening in discourse unless you are actually there present or share a cultural knowledge. You cannot really interpret things like vague language, deictic references that aren’t clarified or explicated, and yet, this is the kind of language we use in everyday life, this is kind of talk that is the quotidian, and we make sense of each other like this all the time. After all, quotidian utterances reveal ‘forms of life’ (Wittgenstein) and the context of culture and context of situation is everything when it comes to trying to understand and trying to mean (Malinowski).

Yet, this kind of language is never privileged in a classroom, partly because it’s hard to reconstruct for the classroom such situations and conditions in which the everyday forms of discourse is found.

Okay, try and think about something you know about together, and then underrepresent it in the talk you use. Go!’ is simply not an instruction that we can give to students.

However, what we can do is to expose students and help them notice (Schmidt, 1992) and make salient the features of language and discourse. And gaming environments are perfect for this.

At this point, Steven turns to his research regarding the complexity of the language found in gamers’ utterances both in online gaming and fan fiction communities. First showing us the ways of assessing linguistic complexity and then revealing that empirical data showed a right-skewed ‘U’, where there was evidence of some simple sentences but the majority of utterances were very complex. These users were using scientific method to better recreate.

Hammering in his point, Steven Thorne summarises the reasons why teachers should expose our learners to gaming to aid language acquisition.

He then suggests the following bridging activities for teachers to use with students…

…and the ways we can help students not just with the lexico-grammar in the texts but the questions we can asks to increase saliency of the discourse…

…showing the way critical and experiential awareness in using gaming can work with each other.

An invigorating talk that established credibility of the speaker and subject in question, providing reason for us teachers to listen, providing empirical evidence to show the complexity of the texts seen online, and finally relating it to the practice of the language teacher. A tall order to fulfill in an hour, and only made possible by Steven Thorne’s contagiously energetic style…

And as several tweets said at the end of his talk… ‘Now breathe…’


My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 10 – Willy Cardoso on Sociocultural Perspectives to Teacher Training

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


If there was one session that I went to this IATEFL conference that really pushed me to think, if there was one session that I went to that made me want to stand up and cheer by the end of it, if there was one session that I went to that I think no one should have missed, it’s Willy Cardoso’s ‘Dialogue in Teacher Training: A Socio-Cultural Perspective’.

Exploring the way teachers learn to teach and the theories behind them, Willy reminds us that nearly everyone has ideas about what teaching should be like because we all have had experience of being a student at some point in our lives. It is such Apprentice of Observation (Lortie, 1975), alongside theories that show how cognitive development is mediated by social activity (Vygotsky), that clearly point towards the fact that learning (whether learning a language or learning to teach) is a dialogic experience, i.e. I cannot make sense of anything unless I am in co-existence with someone else.

Quoting the following, Willy demonstrates the connection between the socialization process, one’s cognitive processes, and the way they conceptualise teaching and what one does in the language classroom:

‘The socialization processes prospective teachers experience during practicum can have a powerful influence on their conceptions of language teaching and of what it means to be a language teacher.’ (Borg, 2006:57)

‘It is not that social activity influences cognition…but that social activity is the process through which human cognition is formed.’ (Lantolf & Johnson, 2007:878)

‘how external forms of social interaction become internalized psychological tools for thinking.’ (Johnson, 2011)

Teachers are learners themselves, and they should always be constant learners of teaching. Their epistemological stance is therefore important in determining what underpins their classroom practices and even the meta-language used to describe what they do. Take for example language like ‘The learner is slow’ or ‘the teacher is dynamic’. Such discourse has a history of usage in our field and it is vital that we examine what we mean when we use them, and how the acquisition of such discourse fits our social contexts.

Such is the discourse that we export to the rest of the world when we export our teaching methodologies and approaches through teacher training courses. Yet, teachers are clearly NOT contextually isolated technicians. They are not machines that copy techniques they have learnt in one context and apply them without regard for the appropriacy of such practices in a different culture or context.

So if we do agree that social processes and cultures could influence cognition, which in turn could influence the way we learn or expect to learn, surely, reflective practice is the key to continual professional development?

Surely, the deepening of knowledge and understanding of the applicability of the techniques and discourse we acquire can only take place through having space for reflection and examination of our beliefs?

Surely, reflective practice is itself learning how to teach?

If so, then, why do we spend hours upon hours on input and planning in teacher training courses?

How often do we expect our trainees to simply ‘copy and paste’ the techniques and discourse into their teaching practices (regardless of the contexts they will teach in)? Is that why we do demo lessons?

Why do we spend such little time on feedback and reflection?

Why is the feedback session to teaching practice lessons only 30 minutes long?

While Dogme is a way for us teachers to allow for more reflective practice and adapt content and structure to context, what about teacher training?

Do we build upon the prior experience of our trainees as learners and as people?

Do we allow space for them to adapt and reflect?

Are we training them to be technicians? Or reflective practitioners?

Encouraging us to use the following framework suggested by Borg (2006), Willy pushes us to ask the following questions as trainers:

  • What are the characteristics of trainee’s classroom practices during the training course?
  • What influences underlie these practices?
  • How do trainees’ exit mindset, pedagogical principles, and scientific concepts compare to those they entered with?

Without doubt, a session that has left us trainers breathless and inspired.

In the communicative era of teaching, we constantly preach a student-centred approach to teaching. We constantly preach that context is most important. We constantly preach that student talking time is what matters.

Hence, when it comes to teacher training, should we not push for a more trainee-centred approach?

Should we not focus our attention on ways our trainee teachers can adapt what we give them and shape it into what would suit different contexts while making it their own?

Should we not allow for more trainee talking time where they could engage in dialogue with not just their tutors, but their colleagues and their students, to help them make sense of their learning process and mediate their development?

Maybe it’s time for a communicative approach to teacher training.

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 9 – A Smorgasbord of Prezi, Metaphors, Drama & the Passive Voice

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The post-lunchtime fun started with Hakan Senturk’s ‘Zooming into the Reading Class- Prezi’ which combined an introduction tutorial of the use of Prezi (which was priceless to someone like myself who has never heard of the tool) with ideas and suggestions as to how to make Prezi work for a reading class.

Using a text about Vikings, Hakan suggests activating the students’ schema by show a part of a picture of a Viking ship as a prediction task. Since Prezi offers a view not unlike the zooming function of a camera, it allows the user to control the way the objects/pictures are viewed by swiftly zooming into the part specified by the user. This works well not just for the prediction task, but also while reading, where Hakan shows the audience how to zoom into the text to show the embedded answers, definitions and pictures planted cleverly there.

Suggesting that we start by experimenting with blank prezi documents (and not the templates), Hakan shows us step by step how to work ‘the camera/view’ on Prezi, demonstrating how Prezi is like a canvas on which we can place anything (text, pics, embedded vids, etc) and move them around. It is easy to upload and insert anything.  To lighten the mood and illustrate his point, he shows us an embedded video of the Muppet Show’s Vikings singing In the Navy on Youtube.

Aside from the teacher using Prezi to present reading tasks to students, Prezi can also allow participants to edit documents together and therefore can be used for class projects. When the Prezi presentation is done, you can even download, or embed it on your blog. For iPad users, there’s also a Prezi app.

Well done, Hakan! A convincing presentation! I’m off to experiment on Prezi now!


After Hakan’s presentation, a few of us Tweeters made our way towards my IH London colleagues – Richard Chinn and Marie Willoughby’s session, ‘Making sense with  metaphor in language teaching training’.

Starting by dividing the audience into 2 groups of trainers and trainees, and then asking them to complete the following sentences in pairs – ‘A training course is like…’ and ‘Trainers are like…’, Richard and Rie immediately make their point about how metaphors can create a relaxed and personalized atmosphere by making a serious or unfamiliar topic area more accessible and less intimidating, when they get tongue-in-cheek answers like ‘Trainers are like gods’.

Quoting Lakoff and Johnson as saying that we seek out personal metaphors to make sense of our experience in life, they explain that metaphors can be used with trainees to process their feelings and experiences during what might be quite an intensive training course, while allowing time for playful work. Also, metaphors provide a way of accessing the subconscious and the feeling that are occurring below the surface.

Thus, getting trainees to voice their thoughts and feelings in metaphors can help us better understand how trainees feel and this can better provide us with a way of guiding them to seeing things in a different light. A clear example of this was when one of Richard’s trainees who initially said ‘A teacher is an instructor’ ended up saying ‘A teacher is a facilitator’ by the end of his Celta course.

In this way, the use of metaphors can develop awareness of teaching and learning and also help address the trainees’ previous learning experience and their expectations. It can also help trainees deal with complex concepts by relating them to things and concepts that they are more familiar with.  In TP feedback, metaphors can depersonalize the ‘criticisms’ and enable people to explore the issues with feeling the sting of the ‘attack’.

The audience had some fun working out and relating some metaphors to different areas of the CELTA course and…

Finally, some tips about using metaphors:

  • Metaphors need to connect (emotionally) with trainees. Just because they understand a metaphor intellectually does not mean they feel it.
  • ‘To make a difference, we to reach the gut and touch the hearts of our participants’ (Malderez and Wedell)
  • Get your trainees to make their own metaphors – ones that they can connect to.
  • We all understand the world differently, and cultural factors and personal interest can hinder our understanding of metaphors.
  • Use metaphors by all means, but don’t overegg the pudding!

Richard and Rie’s presentation balanced theory and practice in a non-threatening yet useful way that inspired the audience to try implementing some of their ideas while maintaining a level of audience participation that was perfect for that time of the conference where we were all just starting to feel the tiredness creep in.


Another session I attended that was also pitched well to the fatigued conference goer was Eugene Schaefer’s ‘Teaching with Spontaniety : Using PDL in the classroom. Allowing the audience to close their eyes and relax was certainly a welcomed exercise after a long conference day as we were guided into drifting away into tranquility. An expert in the techniques of Psychodramaturgie Linguistique, Eugene this time showed us how ‘mirroring’ and ‘doubling’ could help learners to explore the language and to put the vocabulary they already know into coherent sentences.

In ‘mirroring’, the teacher pretends to talk to an imaginary object and the students mirror his actions and his words (intonation included). In ‘doubling’, the teacher sits behind the blindfolded student, sometimes offering a mask for the student as a symbol of recognizing that speaking in a foreign language can sometimes be like putting on a different mask and taking on a different identity. The teacher then tells the students to think of any word they feel like saying in the foreign language (Eugene uses German as an example here). The teacher now says words in response to the students’ words and the students can choose to repeat them or not.  In what seemed to me as techniques reminiscent of Community Language Learning, PDL adds a significant element of taking the students’ state of mind and psychological and emotional relationship with the new language very seriously and accommodates it to create a learning advantage.


The final session of the day for me was my colleague Danny Norrington-Davis’s ‘Don’t tell the police – they are not important’, where I overheard someone saying that this is definitely up for a ‘Best title of the conference’ award. The talk was certainly one of the best grammar talks too.

Ok, let me first admit…I had previously given  talk at IATEFL Brighton on Systemic Functional Grammar, and when Danny mentioned that (and our multiple conversations following last year’s IATEFL) as being one of the reasons he embarked on looking into this topic, I was beaming…so I might be biased…

When Danny’s students were asked for reasons why the passive is used, they often give the same abstract descriptions that they are fed from the coursebooks. Descriptions and rules such as ‘Because the doer is unimportant’ (Is the title making more sense now?). Such rules are not only hard to apply and make sense of, but also largely inaccurate. Yet, coursebook audaciously use the ‘royal we’ and the present simple tense (suggesting it is a FACT) when giving these rules, e.g. ‘WE use the passive to…’

As Batstone states, ‘Broad classifications bring a sense of security but we are being economical with the truth’.

Mentioning Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics where ‘given and new’ and ‘theme and rheme’ (of the Textual Metafunction) is used to explain the use of the passive, Danny expounds on the clash between pedagogic grammars, descriptive grammars, and real texts and contexts.

In order to make his point, Danny gets the audience to read a newspaper article in which an animal smuggler has been caught by the police. He then divides the audience up into journalists, police officers, and suspects, so as to get us understanding the perspective from which the newspaper article was written. Using such awareness-raising and consciousness-raising activities, learners would be able to consider the writer/speaker and the intentions or interests behind their use of certain tenses or language features (in this case, the passive).  The use of texts can guide students towards noticing why certain language is being used and renders the provision of generalized rules unnecessary and even simplistic. Ending his session with the suggested reading ‘Holistic Grammar’ by Rob Bolitho (ETP Issue 75, July 2011), Danny wows the audience into pondering over the valid points that he made about grammar teaching.

The resounding message that keeps getting air time this IATEFL conference:

Move away from over generalisations!

Use the discourse and the context and raise students’ awareness of how language is really used!


…There’s one more important talk on Day 2 coming up…watch this space…

…to be continued…


My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 8 – Diana Laurillard’s Plenary

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL Day 2 Plenary Speech by Diana Laurillard

The day began with a plenary by Diana Laurillard, a professor of Learning with Digital Technologies, who started off her presentation ‘Supporting the teacher as innovative learning designer’  by highlighting how we can learn through technology. Combining digital tools with what we already know about the learning processes, Diana Laurillard shows us the available technological resources that spur us on to look to technology, allowing for a shift from classroom teaching to personalized learning, and making learning more productive. After all, as she says, teaching is not telling people stuff, but engaging them in activities.

Learning through…

discussion can be done through synchronous webinars with chat and playback, and asynchronous chat forums;

practice can be done through digital interactive tools with meaningful feedback on actions;

collaboration can be done through roleplay simulations with user-generated scripts in interactive games;

production can be done through user-generated digital multi-media combinations of film, animation, sound, images, captions, etc.

Reminding the audience not to let technology wag the dog, she asserts that when we use technology, we should always think of the educational requirements and what it takes to learn, and ask ‘What are we trying to do?’. Then we can challenge the technology to produce that for us. And if technology is doing its job, we hope this might mean less admin work for all of us.

As a professional learning community, we teachers can also make use of technology to:

  • Build on the work of others;
  • Articulate our pedagogy;
  • Adopt, Adapt, Test, and Improve Learning Designs
  • Sharing learning designs
  • Comparing conventional with digital teaching

(These are things that teachers are now using Twitter, Facebook, and even Second Life for these days)

Diana Laurillard then goes on to make some lucid points about the learning process, showing how technology could better suit the learner.

  • Learning isn’t a one-way process from teacher to learner. The learner must be required to think, to be asked to do something, and be given feedback on what they have done.
  • Meaningful feedback doesn’t always have to be from the teacher telling the learner. They can review themselves and their peers can too.
  • Teaching is neither a science nor an art.

Below are the learning cycles that take place.

And here are the tech tools we can use in those learning cycles, and a significant advantage of digital tools is its ability to help the learners do their own reflections, generate new concepts and modulate their own actions.

Diana Laurillard then goes on to show the audience a pedagogy patterns collector, that could possibly collect lesson frameworks to suit different contexts and students…something that for some reason reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator… or should it now be called the Great Automatic Lesson Plan Generator…?

Regardless of one’s biasness towards or against such a tool, one has to admit that digital technology is here to stay and can become a huge advantage to not just our learners but to us educators, and our own continual professional development.

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 7 – 52 Subversive Activities & lots of parties

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The last session of the day was one that everyone had been waiting for – Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield’s 52: A year of subversive activity for the ELT classroom. Fearing a repeat-scenario of Anthony Gaughan’s talk where the majority were left unable to enter the jam-packed room, some of us literally ran (yes, I mean it literally. We legged it!) at the end of Bruno’s session to Luke and Lindsay’s (as fast as the conference wind would take us!).  Thankfully, the room was big enough to house those that wanted in, and there was no scary bouncer/prison warden/riot control police-like presence in sight (Oi! @Scotchbouncer! Stop tweeting us! It’s scary!).

After the Twitteratti made neat little rows with their iPads and iPhones ready to team tweet and blog (@sandymillin, this was the moment I realized we worked fantastically as a team! Looking forward to more!), Luke and Linsay start their talk by roasting each other. Lindsay, being a famous coursebook writer, and Luke, being a famous founder and advocate of Dogme, were indeed an unlikely collaboration. However whether it be for coursebooks or for materials that act as a departure point for Dogme lessons, it was important to have topics that are stimulating and activities that engage and challenge our learners.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Introducing the concept of the book 52, Luke and Lindsay get the audience to break down the famous acronym PARSNIP, i.e. topics that publishers would like writers to stay clear of.

P is for Politics

A is for Alcohol

R is for Religion

S is for Sex

N is for Narcotics

I is for Isms (some said Israel)

P is for Pork / Pornography

While 52 is about subverting the norm and embracing the PARSNIPs, the co-authors warn that it is not necessarily for everyone and neither is their presentation.

Here are some ways to be subversive:

Subverting dress codes: Teachers could come to class wearing what they don’t normally wear. See if students notice and use that to stimulate discussions. Often, this could lead to conversations about expectations regarding what people wear, e.g. hoodies, veils, etc.

Subverting language points like ‘present simple for daily routines’ could be presented in a subversive and memorable context, e.g. a daily routine of an innocent person in jail, or a corrupt civil servant.

Subverting the special day: Discussion topic – What is a ‘Hallmark holiday’? It is one that exist only for the purpose of selling greeting cards or flowers. Do you agree?

Subverting the typical business coursebook activity: Telephone roleplays – Student A is the vice president and calling his company. You have been kidnapped and you need to speak to the president. Student B is the receptionist. The president is unavailable at the moment.

Subverting expectations using visuals and images: Use this to teach the 2nd conditional!

You can also:

Practice comparatives by asking the following questions –

Which is better? Love without sex? Or Sex without love?

Which is better? Money without love? Or love without money?

Love, sex, money. You can only choose two. Which would you choose?

Or get students to notice the chunks of language used on protest signs! Talk about the lexical approach!

52 is available as an E-book on Amazon for 5 Euros or you can go to and search with the word ‘subversive’.

If you prefer the T-shirts that Luke and Lindsay revealed to us in their version of a semi-striptease, they are available on the Round’s website in 2 colours: black and white.

Photo by Mike Hogan

But what is the Round?

The Round was formed to produce books that might not otherwise get published. Books like 52.

And offers writers more autonomy (and a bigger cut too!) over their books, while providing careful assessment and professional editing for projects.

For more information about the Round, click here.

Leaving the crowd cheering for more, Luke and Lindsay end their presentation with a little book trailer for 52 and getting teachers all excited about being subversive…

Photo by Mike Hogan

And so ends Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow…

Or maybe not!

That evening saw the International House 50th Years of Teacher Training Anniversary Party.

All week long, International House had been giving out wonderful little blue badges at their stand at the exhibition hall. Badges that said ‘I trained with IH’!

(I sneakily wore two because I figured I should have one for my Celta and one for my Delta!)

The TEFL celebrities present at the party certainly spoke volumes about the results of the IH teacher training courses and the evening was spent amongst delicious nibbles and wine nostalgically reminiscing the days gone by in the different locations that International House London occupied and the memories of the people there. Simon Greenhall introduced the audience to three speakers, Ken Wilson, Susan Barduhn, and Jeremy Harmer, each of whom shared with us a memory of IH London, including the one where Luke Meddings apparently forgot to hand in his assignment on coursebooks.

After a fair bit of catching up with IH colleagues and ex-colleagues based in different IH schools around the world, a few of us proceeded to the ELTChat party where champagne and good vibes filled the room. The best news of that evening was of course the fact that ELTChat has been nominated for the ELTons.

Congratulations, @ShaunWilden, @ShellTerrell, @barbsaka, @rliberni and @Marisa_C ! You deserve every bit of this!)

As we drank the night away (some of us more than others…oops!), we came to the end of Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow…

Watch this space for Day 2…

…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 6 – Jacket Potatoes, MLearning, ELearning & Skype

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


Part of our amazing Twitteratti queueing for jacket potatoes

Lunch on this day was quite an experience.

First, we had to round up the Twitteratti after Anthony Gaughan’s talk, including those that didn’t manage to get past the surly female ‘bouncer’.

Then, we had to decided what our lunch options were. It turned out that we only had a café Costa that served sandwiches, a bistro/restaurant that was already full, and a jacket potato stand to choose from.

Next, we had to painfully recognize the fact that there was no way 50 members of the Twitteratti would fit in any where and that we had to split into smaller groups.

A group of us decided to go with the jacket potato option and after braving the long queues, we ended up sitting on the floor with our lunches. (not realizing that there was a hall full of tables that we could have sat at!) In any case, we certainly enjoyed bonding in front of the vending machine and feeling like the hippies that we were. Carol Goodey and I even attempted to go to the exhibition area to ‘score’ some desserts (in the form of boiled sweets) from some of the stands, before heading off early to all the respective rooms our talks were being held in for fear of being confronted by scary Scottish bouncers again (Fiona Mauchline, are you sure that was Genghis McCann’s mother?)

Not all teachers are champagne socialists! Some actually walk the walk!

Most of my afternoon was an exploration into technologies for learning, an area I must admit I know very little about (hence, the curiosity).

The first was the Learning Technologies (LT) SIG’s presentation by Maria do Carmo Ferreira Xavier of Cultura Inglesa – Ideas to implement mobile phones in the English classroom. In a very practical session where Maria talked of the project she has been working on over the last 18 months, where she used different types of mobiles, including smart phones, to motivate and engage her learners, allowing them to interpret the materials in the coursebooks in a personalized way.

Here are some of the ideas she put forward:

Get students to…

…use their mobiles to take photos of objects in odd positions and get to work in pairs guessing what each other’s photos are of.

…send a text message to their classmates inviting them to a party.

…actually have that party, take photos of it with their mobiles, and describe the party the following day to those who couldn’t make it.

…take photos of someone with piercings, with tattoo or body art, and bring it to class to talk about.

…bring photos of their holidays or places they have travelled to and talk about it.

…take photos of what they think represents the world’s biggest problems and or problems with their local area, and use the photos as discussion prompts.

…use iPods, smartphones, and iPads for vocabulary lists, and for Twitter/Facebook contact with native speakers.

Following in the theme of technology and learning, I then headed to Przemyslaw Stencel’s Which is better? F2F or ELearning? Apples or Oranges?

International House London, partnered by Cambridge, launched the Celta Online about a year ago, and more and more teacher trainers are making that move into online distance learning and teaching. I myself did the Distance Delta many years ago and had a great experience on it despite having initial reservations of there not being a Face-to-Face (F2F) element. I was thus curious what Przemyslaw had to say on the topic.

At the start of his talk, Przemyslaw introduces the audience a website called (no this is not one of those comedy hashtags, James…it is an actual real website with real statistics and stuff…) and it showed that there was in fact no statistical difference between distance learning and F2F.

Learning is after all the result of motivation and of opportunities, and learning happens best as an active process where there is interaction with others.

In ELearning, we can invite all kinds of people, including those outside the group, to join in and this allows for more interaction with a wider variety of people, hence increasing motivation. An example of this is MOOT (Massive Open Online Course) where the platform is opened to the public and anyone can join in.

Przemyslaw goes on to assert that unlike in F2F where we prefer to have a small number of learners/trainees, in ELearning, the more the participants, the more interesting the experience. We use Moodle or Blackboard because it allows us to retain control and assign tasks, but in fact we should get rid of the limitations and use ELearning to let students guide their own learning.

Often, a criticism of using online forums is the lack of immediacy and the delayed responses, but this could be seen as a good things as this means allowing for thinking and pondering time for the learner. Recommending the use of online tools such as Edublogs, Glogster, Youtube, etc, ELearning can be made an active process, and online projects can be bigger and involve more people than any F2F project can.

We tend to peg F2F as more ‘real’ and ELearning as ‘artificial’, when in fact we often create artificial environments in the classroom to teach students what to do in real life. Such classroom tasks are often artificial. On the contrary, we can give authentic real life tasks online, such as using google maps to teach directions, getting students to plan their holidays by using websites, etc.

A convincing talk by the end of which it is clear which of the two Przemyslaw is biased towards…and it’s certainly not Oranges.

Next up was another very exciting and popular event, especially amongst the Twitteratti. LT SIG Scholarship winner Bruno Andrade (Cultura Inglesa), also known as ‘That amazing guy who is running the Brazil #ELTChat?’,  presents ‘Technology speaks volumes: Enhancing Integration, Participation, and Speaking Activities’.

Bruno’s digital immersion project started off with him offering his students a range of tools to choose from, allowing them to select what they felt comfortable working with. When Skype was chosen, he gave the students further responsibility by asking them when in their lessons they would like to use Skype. In a presentation-style that was inspiring enough to make us go forth and try and move mountains, Bruno says, ‘When students are given responsibility, it becomes a driving force for them, and amazing things happen.

In their 1st Skype session, students simply exchanged trivial conversations, but by the 2nd session, they started to talk about the geographical and cultural aspects of their area.

In their 3rd Skype session, students started to play drama games, e.g. where they were only allowed to carry on a conversation with only 1 word at a time, or by only making questions.

By their 5th session, there was evidence of the encouraging of critical thinking through the discussion of violence in schools.

Here are my top picks of Bruno’s wise words:

  • Skype could make the class less teacher- and coursebook- centred.
  • Do not forcefully stick to the plan but take advantage of teachable moments and go with the flow (or what Dogmeticians would probably call ‘Dogme moments’?)
  • Encourage critical thinking in the classroom.
  • Play back the conversations for the students as this can help them with self-awareness, self-correction and increased self-confidence with talking to others.
  • Remember that when working with YLs, ensure you ask for authorization from parents when embarking on such digital immersion projects.

However, my favourite part of Bruno’s passionate presentation must have been when he played us videos of his learners, some of whom were too shy to even make a sentence in English prior to his project, talking about their learning experience with Skype in perfectly intelligible communicative English on camera.

But the best part wasn’t just what the learners were saying…

…but that big smile on Bruno’s face when that video was playing.

It was a smile that could have lit up a thousand Skype screens!

We know that look Bruno…and that is why we teach!

Thank you, Bruno, for reminding us of that!

(I feel all warm and fuzzy inside just recalling that moment…but Day 1 is not quite over yet…watch this space…)

…to be continued…

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 5 – Anthony Gaughan on the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


The first coffee break was spent gawking at the size of the exhibition hall this year, and greeting old friends and online friends who were not at the PCE or Karaoke event the night before (Hi @SandyMillin !). In fact, we got so caught up by it all that we had not noticed that all of us were heading in the same direction for the next talk: Anthony Gaughan’s The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT.

The room was full by the time we got there, and many of us experienced our first conference disappointment. Thankfully, Mike (@irishmikeh) had reserved two seats and we managed to get in…I then came out two seconds later to loudly announce to James (@theteacherjames) that Mike had reserved him a seat too (it was my first ever conference lie!), thus getting him past the ‘bouncer’ who clearly had missed a huge career opportunity in riot control. This very same scary ‘bouncer’ came in several minutes before Anthony’s talk to chase out the couple of people who were sitting on the floor (What kind of TEFL conference is it when no one’s allowed to sit on the floor???) and lecture us on how we are not allowed to ‘reserve’ seats by putting our belongings on them. James, Mike and I simply kept our heads down and hoped that she wouldn’t notice that the 3 of us were sharing 2 seats…

I certainly felt like a schoolgirl, hoping, with all fingers crossed behind my back, that the discipline master wouldn’t find out that we had been eating in the classroom…

Now, back to Anthony Gaughan’s talk.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Anthony starts by telling us the 3 things he was not going to.

He was not going to tell us anything we don’t already know;

He was not going to ask why we were there;

And he was not going to get us to agree with him.

This set the relaxed mood for his entire talk, in which he skillfully went through the Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT (as shown below) and debunked each of them, always reminding us never to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Photo by Mike Hogan

1.    Repetition Drilling

Starting with espousing behaviourism and reminding us that language is much more a habit than we realize, and that we can make what we drill meaningful by utilizing substitution drills etc.

2.    Translation and the Use of L1

One common criticism is that L1 can’t be used in multilingual classes, but a quick show of hands immediately showed us that monolingual classes are in fact the majority.

Another criticism is that translation does not encourage students to think in English. Anthony goes on to question, ‘But who says your students are thinking in English anyway?’

He then goes on to suggest ways of using L1, e.g. mini-text translation, asking ‘fifth skill questions’ and using the L1 to contrast with L2.

3.    Students using dictionaries in class

Is using dictionaries time-wasting? Anthony wonders why some might feel that teaching learners to work things out for themselves is not time well-spent.

4.    Teacher explanations

There’s nothing wrong with explanations, Anthony asserts, saying that students would feel cheated if they paid you, the expert, and instead, you try to constantly elicit from them, leaving them unclear.

The issue here is the quality of the explanations. Students stop listening when the answers are unclear, too long or abstract, or when it is not answering their question. Perhaps learning to give good explanations, rather than getting rid of them completely is key.

5.    Reading texts aloud in class

Anthony’s 3 commandments for reading aloud:

  • Insert lines to show breaks and pauses in text (to help with phonological chunking)
  • Bold fonts for main stress (or nucleus)
  • Mark parts of text where students can give attention to weak forms and linking.

6.    Telling students they are wrong

Correcting mistakes upsets students? Anthony blames Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis for teachers tip-toeing around students and being afraid to correct them. He maintains that it is all in the approach (can we correct them in a supportive and gentle/friendly manner?) and that all learners want feedback.

7.    Teacher talk time

Just as there aren’t any issues with teacher explanations as long as they are good ones, there are no issues with teacher talk time as long as they are good quality ones.

Photo by Mike Hogan

All in all, one of the best talks this conference! Thought-provoking, attitude-challenging, and definitely full of great teaching ideas!

It of course didn’t hurt that these were 7 points that I totally agree with Anthony on.

Perhaps potentially 7 more Devil’s Advocate installments with Anthony that are possible here? *wink*

Click here to have a read of my Devil’s Advocate (DA) with Anthony Gaughan on teacher training.

For more updates on Day 1 of IATEFL Glasgow, watch this space…

…to be continued…