IH DOS Conference, 2012


Reproduced with permission of International House World Organisation

Anyone following the #ihdos hashtag and any member of my PLN would tell you, I was tweeting non-stop at the IH DOS conference last week, so much so that I was later asked the question, ‘When you tweet, do you miss things that are being said?’

My answer was a confident ‘no’. In fact, when I tweet, I find myself paying more attention to what the presenter’s are saying. It’s almost like the tweeting gives me a motivation to really understand and summarise the speaker’s message. Tweeting, to me, is like taking notes – taking notes in the form of tweets – notes that I can then look back on several days after the conference and write a reflective blogppost about – a reflective blogpost like this one.

The conference started off with an encouraging and bonding talk by Lucy Horsefield and Monica Green about the core values of the IH brand and what we stand for, while Sophie Montagne introduced the very eye-catching IHWO website and announced IH Prague’s role in hosting this year’s YL conference. Shaun Wilden then continued to fly the IH flag, talking about the IH World Assessment unit, outlining a continual professional development scheme for IH teachers, including the blog ihteachers.com that could allow us to collaborate and get together in a way we’ve never been able to, and reminding us of the impending pub quiz the following evening.

After a much needed coffee break that saw old friends saying hello and new introductions being made, Neil McMahon was streamed into the conference room live from Argentina using the impressive Blackboard software. As Neil briefed us on the different IHWO resources available this year, such as the up and coming IH Live online workshops planned for March and November, the IH Language Rainbow, and IH teacher liaisors to facilitate teacher collaboration, Shaun deftly multi-tasks and ensures the smooth and successful video streaming with skills of an IT guru.

Reproduced with the permission of International House World Organisation

Following up on Neil’s talk about teaching resources, Trevor Udberg (IH Newcastle) shares his project, the IH Platform with great passion and finesse, encouraging schools and teachers to make use of online blogs to create a sharing philosophy. Outlining the advantages of sharing, Trevor states that sharing allows us to create a sense of belonging, to show off the great work our teachers are producing, to cherry pick from a wider range of resources, and help smaller schools to benefit. While acknowledging the fact that some teachers might be saving their materials in hope of a future publication, in a digital age where blogging and tweeting is becoming commonplace, Trevor has hit the nail on the head when he says that sharing can conversely help promote your work and get you that publishing deal you are waiting for.  A motto that is definitely worth repeating outside of the IH schools : Let’s Share!

From this point on, the conference branched out of IHWO-relevant topics into broader themes of interest to most TEFL teachers. One key track on the conference was the focus on the use of social networks and technology, starting with Shaun Wilden’s very energetic presentation. While providing a useful overview of what Twitter is, how it works, and what it can do for a teacher’s continual professional development, Shaun’s talk lived up to its title ‘What has #hashtagging ever done for us?’ by exemplifying the uses and advantages of hashtagging with the award-winning #ELTchat, Dave Dodgson’s blog challenge, and the international success of the recent TESOL France organized by Bethany Cagnol.

The talk was echoed and expanded upon by Emma Cresswell (IH San Isidro) who systematically looked at the pros and cons of using social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn both for use in the classroom with learners and as a marketing and publicity tool for the school to target potential students and maintain existing ones. Giving examples that ranged from using games on Facebook to motivate students to using social media to keep in touch with students, to share information and  to open up channels of communication between students outside the classroom, Emma clearly convinced some of the DOSes in the room to consider the usefulness of social networking on digital media.

In a plenary talk the following day, Nicky Hockly debunks the myth of the digital natives in the most creative way by getting the audience to consider the tree octopus, successfully rallying support for saving it from extinction, only to reveal that a closer genre analysis of the ‘Save the Tree Octopus’ website shows it up to be false, much to most of our disappointment (I was ready to download that tree octopus ribbon and put it up on my blog!). Pointing out that our younger students, despite being labeled ‘digital native’, still need to be taught how to deal with media literacy, Nicky provides ways of conceptualizing digital literacies based on Mark Pegrum’s categories, focusing on language, information, design and connections.

Nicky then goes on to share some exciting ideas of using literal videos like the Harry Potter trailer together with the online subtitling tools such as overstream.net to help students create stories and have fun with putting words to scenes from foreign films like the Downfall.

Another thread that took on more significance as the conference progressed, attracted the attention of teachers following the conference on Twitter and has seemed to acquired a life of its own in Blogosphere after the conference ended is the Dogme versus Coursebook debate. Alastair Grant kicks off the debate on Day One of the conference with his talk ‘Dogme Teaching in your institute’, providing a useful definition of Dogme, outlining the three principles of Dogme (materials light, conversation driven, emergent language) and showing that the collocation ‘a Dogme Syllabus’ does not have to be an oxymoron, while describing how he implements Dogme with his class over a whole term.

Starting with what Alastair called ‘Pedagogical Foreplay’ (and the rest of the ELT world calls a Needs Analysis), he uses a questionnaire at the beginning of his course to focus his students on their goals, their interests and the things that they can bring to the classroom. Convincingly demonstrating how listening, writing and reading skills can still receive their deserved focus by getting students to bring in texts, songs, genres which they are interested in and would like to work on, Alastair shows the audience a bingo-style grammar syllabus which he ticks off as each topic/language item is uncovered in a Dogme lesson. In order to add structure to the lessons, Alastair emphasizes the importance of getting students to keep lesson diaries – a written record of everything covered in the classroom. Result? Increased student motivation, a keenness for students to speak more, making the students integral to the construction of the course, a higher attendance rate, and higher levels of excitement all round!

The following morning featured the debate everyone had been waiting for, the Dogme battle where Jeremy Harmer and Luke Meddings went head to head, while the entire Twitter community held their breaths and tweeted madly (Okay, that was really mostly my Dogme PLNers…but there were still quite a lot of tweets!)

Jeremy starts off by comparing language learning to the decontextualized rote learning of music and begins to deconstruct each of the three ‘pillars’ of Dogme (Hey, we did have 10 vows of chastity before…so going down to 3 only demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of Dogmeticians!). First, Jeremy asks if coursebook-based lessons could be conversation-driven too, then  proceeds to question if conversation-driven lessons are necessarily better, stating that Dogme perhaps neglects learners who are not people-smart and do not function well in interactions, preferring to get their knowledge in other ways. Just like the fact that some people actually do like packaged holidays, Jeremy compares that to people who do like coursebooks, and claims that some of the stuff found in coursebooks can actually be very interesting.

Jeremy then goes on to agree with that Dogme moments where teachers work with what students want to talk about can constitute good teaching, but asks the all important question: What if language does not emerge?

(As a Dogmetician, I worry that the term ‘emergent language’ might have been misunderstood here. Perhaps there is a need to define emergent language further here. I doubt if we are referring to the procedural knowledge students have or the language that is ready to be proceduralised in the minds of the learners. We are referring the output that students produce, within which there is always incidental language we can work with, providing the output + 1 or O+1…sorry, Krashen).

This all led to a mad flurry on Twitter, with tweets such as, ‘It’s not Dogme, it’s what teachers have always done,’ and ‘what if we just call Dogme good teaching?’  and a comment that some Dogmeticians are rather evangelical…

(Yeah, coz if you ain’t doin Dogme-style, you ain’t teachin! Hallelujah!)

Luke Meddings enters the boxing ring straight after Jeremy, highlighting the importance of motivation and relevance for language learning, reminding us that there are teachers out there who do not necessarily adapt the coursebooks and use them in a personalized way, teachers who use materials that aren’t even engaging them, teachers who do stuff just because it’s in the book.

Equating grammar exercises and countless gap-fills to slapping on too much Coleman’s mustard and never using all of it, Luke tells of Dale Coulter’s anecdote of his student, an education specialist, who flicked through the coursebook and said, ‘This is a linear syllabus disguised as a series of thematic units. But that’s not how the brain works!’ Funny how we can wax lyrical about how language learning is not linear and preach Krashen’s i + 1 and SLA theories about interaction and meaning negotiation for decades, yet still resist the idea that grammar/chapter McNuggets of coursebooks might not be the way to go.

Luke emphasizes that our students are coming to us with their English which we should be working with, and not for our English, and that materials-light therefore enables teachers to approach the class in a top-down rather than bottom-up fashion. Dogme lessons are therefore not one-off lessons that constitutes of the teacher winging it because they couldn’t be bothered to spend time pre-planning, but requires teachers to rigorously react on the spot, focusing on grammar, doing little drills and offering practice of a language point that has emerged. The time spent on pre-planning is instead used on post-teaching reflection which not only allows the teacher to evaluate what and how the emergent language has been focused on and the skills that has been practised, but also provides the teacher with opportunities to consider how they would review, recycle and reinforce what they have covered in the following lessons, providing for continuity throughout the course.

While maintaining that unplugging your lesson does not necessarily mean pulling the plug right out and that the amount to which you ‘unplug’ could be varied, the focus is on removing restrictions and being independent, creative and truly communicative.

Using the rule ‘Play Pause Play’ (another definition of PPP?), Luke shows how Dogme can also cater to the Ectenic learners who like systematicity and control of their learning by directing the focus on the emergent language in the ‘Pause’ stage of the lesson, while still providing for the Synoptic learners who prefer to go with the flow and just focus on fluency through the ‘Play’ parts of the lesson.

The success of this debate can be clearly seen by the fact that countless blogposts have been written since the conference discussing unplugged teaching. See below for some of them.






So, would anyone still think that I don’t pay attention when I tweet during conferences? ; )

Emma, Danny, Estelle, Luke, Alastair and myself - formidable Dogme pub quizzers

IATEFL BESIG Dubrovnik conference, 2011

Photos by Mike Hogan and Chia Suan Chong

The BESIG Annual conference this year was held in the Grand Palace Hotel of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and most of the delegates were staying at the very hotel that hosted the conference. On a practical level, this made it much more convenient for speakers who did not want to lug their laptops around all day, but an unexpected effect of this was an overall feeling of warmth and familiarity that bonded the members of BESIG.  IATEFL conferences have always been a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones, but the BESIG Dubrovnik conference went beyond that. BESIG Dubrovnik was about letting our hair down and relaxing while getting to know old friends better and feeling like a family – a family that shared the same goals and beliefs.

The Welcome

Despite the delayed and missed flights due to the unfortunate strike at Zagreb airport on the first day of the conference, most delegates made it in time to see the beautiful coast of Dubrovnik twinkling in the evening lights.  After a wonderful buffet dinner and some plum brandy amidst conversations with like-minded friends, we retired to our bedrooms, ready to wake up and see the Adriatic Sea in daylight.

The Plenary

Speaking of the importance of raising our clients’ awareness of the different cultures as they use English in this globalized world, Jeremy Comfort in his talk ‘What’s culture got to do with business. Supporting our learners in a complex world’ explains how to help learners develop mindfulness – an ability to step back and observe. He briefly addresses the more essentialist notions of national culture, e.g. Hofstede’s taxonomies, but goes beyond that by broadening the view of culture to encompass conflicts that are caused by different personality styles and different attitudes to time and directness in communication, and talks of the development of ‘push’ (presenting, telling) and ‘pull’ (eliciting, getting participation) skills as tools to avoid and/or getting around conflict. He wraps up the plenary by reminding BE trainers to focus on cultural issues that are of benefit to our clients’ businesses rather than those of interest to the trainers. There is no doubt that the key to understanding other cultures is curiosity and openness.

Photo by Mike Hogan

The Talks

Vicky Hollett’s talk ‘Learning to Speak ‘merican’ was a brilliant lesson in the significance of pragmatics in our understanding of intercultural interactions. Challenging the traditional stereotypes that Americans do not share the British sense of humour, and that Americans are more direct than the ‘Brits’, Vicky cleverly uses many familiar and humorous examples to demonstrate how being indirect could make utterances less threatening and help avoid awkwardness, and this ironically allows British conversations to have much more cut and thrust since we can always use jokes to cover it up. While the Americans tend to try and maintain positive face (i.e. the need to be accepted and appreciated by others) and therefore pride inclusion even when telling jokes, the Brits are more concerned with maintaining negative face (i.e. by not intruding or get in people’s way because of their need to be free and not be burdened by others) and are happy to use the ambiguity of jokes at any time or circumstance to relieve uncomfortable moments or rescind our initial requests. Thus, what might seem sarcastic to American might simply be witty quips to the Brits.

This cross-cultural interaction theme was continued by several speakers, including my own talk about perceptions of politeness in cross-cultural NNS interactions, Richard Lewis’s ‘Cultural Factors in International Business’…

Photo by Mike Hogan

and Dr. Sabrina Mallon-Gerland’s talk ‘Case Study – Why the Germans are arrogant and the Americans are not committed’. Sabrina highlighted the cultural effect on linguistic use and suggested that we could teach students to use certain formulaic language but cannot expect them to feel comfortable using them if it is not something done in their own culture. She goes on to use concrete examples in a comparative case study, e.g. the German use of ‘The problem with that idea is…’ to signal an interest to take the idea further through discussion, but could be mistaken by Americans to mean ‘I find this idea problematic and am not interested in it’.  In order to prevent misunderstandings caused by such cultural differences, Sabrina proposes the use of meta-language to describe communication intentions so as to enable clients to explicitly define and discuss each stage of their communications, and not leave it to cultural interpretation to inaccurately understand the pragmatic intentions of the speakers.

This ‘training’ and ‘coaching’ aspect of the Business English teacher’s portfolio continued to take centre stage throughout the conference, and it was perhaps most appropriate that we ended the conference with Barry Tomalin’s ‘Teaching Business Communication in the 3rd Space’ Barry describes the ‘3rd Space’ as ‘the new phenomenon in globalisation’ where ‘managers’ reporting lines are internationalized and they are reporting to managers in different countries who they never meet…’ In order to overcome problems of unfamiliarity, Barry suggests several useful mnemonics to help clients make their communication more effective. This included the importance of signposting, summarizing key points, concluding and inviting questions when structuring a presentation, and training clients to give F.A.C.E time when interacting, i.e. Focus, Acknowledge, Clarify, Empathise.

Photo by Mike Hogan

The Publishers

Photo by Mike Hogan

Aside from the opulent amount of wine and plum brandy sponsored by the wonderful publishers (thank you, it was delicious!), it was wonderful to see the rich and innovative BE resources that were being presented at the conference and the exhibition area. Ian Badger’s ‘Listening’ (Collins ELT) must be one of my favourite as he makes use of authentic recordings from various real-life business interactions and offers not just listening practice, but thought-provoking, awareness-raising discussions through them. Co-writer for Grammar for Business (CUP) Rachel Clark continues to make her mark with her cleverly-written and –organised corpus-based grammar reference book, while Mike Hogan presents his new business series starting with Business English for beginners (Cornelsen Verlag). However, perhaps making the most waves is Paul Emmerson’s photocopiable resource book ‘Management Lessons’ which he has bravely published on his own through PaulEmmerson.com, making this the first BE book to ever be self-published. Judging from Paul’s previous successes with ‘Email English’ and ‘Business English Handbook’ (Macmillan), he wouldn’t have any trouble getting this one off the ground.

Photo by Mike Hogan
That's just me...

The Partying

Delicious seafood, colourful (but lethal) cocktails, and BE Trainers dancing to ‘Like a Prayer’ on what was an exclusively BESIG dance floor till the wee hours of Sunday morning. Need I say more?

The Goodbyes

For those heading home on the last day of the conference, there was a mere 3-4 hours of a quick city tour before making our way to Dubrovnik airport. For the lucky few who got to stay for an extra day, they were made luckier by a last-minute cancellation of what would have been a second strike at the airport. For those that were heading back to the UK, foggy weather meant that Dubrovnik airport saw a whole herd of more than 50 BE teachers hanging around nostalgically looking back at how wonderful BESIG 2011 had been…

See http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh/sets/ for more BESIG Dubrovnik photos by Mike Hogan.

Reflections on IATEFL Brighton and good teaching

After a hectic 4 days at IATEFL Brighton, followed by the come-down of those post-conference blues, I started to reflect upon the talks I had attended and the same message that seemed to be stressed and repeated again and again. And when I realised that I could no longer tweet these thoughts in 140 words, I gave in to the pull of starting my own blog, suppressing previous embarrasments and worries of the seemingly ego-centric nature of the extended airing of my own views and experiences online.

The conference started with Peter Grundy striking the perfect balance between humour, practical teaching tips and academic rigour as he spoke about the importance of Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance Theory and the creation of meaning through conversational implicatures.

The message: Communication is much more than literal meanings, for meaning comes from use.

In Dave Willis’s talk, he demonstrated the use of an authentic conversation used in a task-based classroom.

The message: Learners don’t systematically build up their grammar in the linear fashion that coursebooks would have us believe in.

Fiona James spoke about the use of visualisation to tap into the students’ imagination and inner lives and in doing so, develop the students intrapersonal skills, improve their self-concept, and most importantly for the language teacher, encourage lots of speaking and emergent language.

The message: Learners’ lives and imaginations are the most valuable resource that can be tapped.

Eugene Schaefer’s talk ‘Chuck the Book! Learner-generated Roleplays’ entertained the delegates with practical ideas and energised us with an array of drama-based activities.

The message (I got out of it) : A coursebook-less lesson could be filled with excitment and fun, and doesn’t have to resemble a chat in the pub.

Chaz Pugliese talked about using creativity in the classroom to motivate learners, reminding us teachers to have fun, or we might bore the students.

The message: Real-play, as opposed to Roleplay, allows learners to bring their own identity into the classroom.

Ultimately, they all point towards one thing. That good teaching is simply about supplying structures and frameworks that allow learners to bring themselves into the language classrooms, facilitating genuine interactions that put learners at the centre of their learning process, and providing opportunities for learners to encounter language in use. It is certainly not about letting coursebooks dictate which grammar point one needs to learn next, diverting learners away from what they truly want to talk about in favour of the perfect lesson plan we have created, or playing audio recordings of John and Jane Doe that learners do not care about in an attempt to enforce some listening practice. Ultimately, they all point towards a Dogme approach to teaching.

My conference experience was wrapped up appropriately by the Dogme Symposium, in which Luke Meddings, Anthony Gaughan, Candy Van Olst, Howard Vickers and Scott Thornbury talked about this conversation-driven, materials-light, and student-focussed approach to teaching. Amongst lots of laughter as we watched Luke drill us to say ‘Dogme’ in the Danish way and Anthony sing to get pairwork to stop, Candy hit the nail on the head when she said that we should let learners talk about what is meaningful to them as we learn to be the listener of stories rather than the storyteller. Why do we spend time contextualising our lessons, when the context is right there in front of our eyes? In Anthony’s words, why import interest into the classroom when we have real stories of people’s lives in the room?

During the gruelling Q&A session, less-convinced delegates started to question the effectiveness of Dogme in Business English classrooms especially for newly-qualified teachers, claiming that the teacher needed to plan the technical jargon that they were going to teach, and couldn’t afford to be caught out during the lesson. It took me a lot of effort to stop myself from yelling ‘In all my years of Business English teaching, I have never been asked by any of my students to teach them jargon!’ Most of my students know more business jargon than I do, and I see no shame in getting them to explain the concepts of their specialization to me. The most important lesson I had learnt when I completed my LCCI CERT TEB (a Celta-like qualification for Business English teachers) years ago was this: I am an expert in using English for business communication. I am not an expert in their business areas. Living by this motto has allowed me to humbly ask questions and listen to my Business English students tell me about their work and specialities. And in the process, I have learnt more about finance, marketing, human resources, sales, architecture, trade, law, politics, etc. than I could ever glean from a coursebook.

Ironically, Dogme is not a dogmatic methodology, as some might think, and as Luke Meddings said in his talk, isn’t new to teaching. Business teachers, for example, have been approaching their lessons in ways I have heard termed ‘Authentic Participation’ for ages. But the moment Scott Thornbury gave it the ‘Dogme’ label, it enabled us to start thinking about teaching in a different way. As Vygotsky would say, labels help us to process thought and concepts.

The message: Whether you call it Dogme or any other name (I will resist quoting the trite Juliet to Romeo speech here), it is simply about good teaching.