IATEFL 2018 – My Week in Brighton


This is my report from last week’s IATEFL conference in Brighton, UK. It is a personal review of the week, not an in-depth critical review of the sessions.  I am subtitling it ‘From Memory Card Full to Mindful’.

On the Saturday before I travelled down, I was having a minor anxiety attack in Norwich. It may have been because I was presenting for the first time, but it was probably more to do with the intensity, exposure to huge numbers of people and the additional responsibilities on my shoulders, such as for the Learning Technologies SIG (Special Interest Group).  Fortunately, the coach journey to Horley (where I was staying on the Sunday evening) was broken up by popping into London Victoria coach station. In addition,  a good friend, Phil, along with his girlfriend, accompanied me. The anxiety I was feeling disappeared and I began to feel excitement instead.

After staying with Russell Stannard and sharing a beer over our respective teams 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, I left for Brighton to attend the LT SIG pre-conference event on virtual reality and the relevance or application of it in the classroom.  It was a great event, with almost 100 attendees and six great speakers.  I especially enjoyed Paul Driver, Heike Philp and Raquel Ribeiro’s sessions.  I filmed the whole thing using the SIG camcorder, although the 8 GB memory card became full fairly early on, causing a minor headache as I tried to capture the remaining sessions using my personal back-up 16 GB card, which wasn’t being read properly at first and was problematic to extract the recordings from. Thanks to Heike for helping me on the day, as well as bringing a high-end Occulus Rift, which she set up at the back of the room.  For a proper review of the LTSIG PCE check out the roving reporter Elisa Effendy’s video review and write-up. There is also this write-up by one of the attendees, Fiona Price.  The SIG had its one face-to-face meeting of the year afterwards in the Old Ship Hotel.

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On Tuesday, my big day came.  My first ever talk at any ELT conference.  After attending two of the LT SIG showcase sessions by Jen Dobson and Sharon Hartle, I went off with my mentor, Kieran Donaghy.  He treated me to lunch and kept me calm as I went through the process of getting myself into the right mindset to give my talk.  I had already practised and recorded a version of it – which I later shared as part of an extensive write-up of my research findings.  That blog post, which I had been working on for months, finally went live about an hour before the talk at 15:55 in room 9.  Around 70 people came to a room designed to seat 60, including Rachael Roberts, who had just given a talk on ‘mindfulness’, Danny ND, Roseli Serra, Clare Maas, Michelle Hunter and several other  people I know and plenty who I didn’t.  Michael Harrison and Adam Simpson sat at the back and kept an eye on the camcorder while Graciela Alchini, as promised, filmed the whole thing from the front row using my iPad.  The results can be seen on the video page. The response was brilliant – not only from people in the room, but during the rest of the week and online.  People heard about it and people started coming up to me saying things like ‘Oh, you’re the mental health guy’!


On Tuesday evening there was a fascinating talk by Gary Motteram on the use of mobile technologies in refugee camps and the LT SIG forum, during which we were approached by keen people wanting to be part of the SIG. This was followed by a scholarship winners gathering, which I attended along with the LT SIG winners, Julia Koifman and Elisa. This was followed by the International Quiz, in which our team came second.  I contributed mostly to the album cover round and getting the answer to the question on what connects The Buggles, Pat Benatar and Rod Stewart – note: it’s not the number of letters in their names!


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Quiz Pic: Tyson Seburn

Unlike previous conferences, I took a lot more time to go off by myself, have the occasional swim and generally do things that were unrelated to what was going on. It was not only putting mindfulness into practice but giving myself time and space to reflect on the previous intensive couple of days.  I bumped into Nick Bilbrough having fish & chips along with Rida Thabet.  I sat in on their interview with the IATEFLtalks Online team and later recorded my own interview, which I have also published on my video page.  Other things I did were to locate Quadrophenia Alley and to have a ‘mindful’ walk and ice cream, accompanied by storyteller, David Heathfield, who works for INTO in Exeter.  I managed to get to Sophia Mavridi’s talk on pedagogy, not just cool tools, but I took it a lot easier today. On Wednesday evening, I was invited to the Visual Arts Circle social event at the English Language Centre, Palmeria Mansions. I felt honoured to be included in their list of talks of current members of the VAC. Had lots of fab chats there, including ones with Janet Auckland and Shay Coyne.


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On Thursday, I went to Steve Mann’s session on Video in English Language Teaching and met up again with Russell.  I went to Roseli Serra and Tyson Seburn’s talks. Later on, I chilled outside the Hilton hotel, with Russell, Steve, Richard Smith and Ana Salvi – all from or connected to the University of Warwick.  Russell went on to play ‘Redemption Song’ at Jeremy Harmer’s ‘Songs of Love & Protest’ session, organised by Sarah Mount.  On the theme of ‘protest’ there was also this demo outside of the Brighton Centre, which I happened to take the photos for, as I was hanging around outside at the time. Solidarity with Buenos Aires – this was to do with the closure of profesorados. I later had a lovely evening meal and chat at Jamie’s Kitchen with Angelos Bollas and Sue Lyon-Jones. We bumped into Sophia Mavridi on the way back from the meal and caught up on the day’s activities.

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On Friday, there was a mindfulness session with Natalia Belousova in the same space as the scholarship winners gathering.  I then attended my one and only plenary of the week – Guyana poet, John Agard, who brought the house down with his brilliant anecdotes and recitals – most notably the incredibly topical ‘Reporting from the Frontline of the Great Dictionary Disaster’.  There is a lot of catching up to do – including some of the other plenaries and a limited number of recorded talks on the Teaching English website.

John Agard 2018-04-16_15-51-18

Pic credit: Virginia Lopez Grisolia

That’s it! A brief run through the week. Quickly put together. There were other great sessions that I attended and lots of great conversations. Actually the main reason for me going is the social side, a chance to meet up with what used to be called the PLN.  I also bought quite a few books. 🙂

This storify of my tweets covers the conference + the Hands Up Project event in London on Sat 14 April.

Here’s just a handful of the hundreds of photos which I took. The focus is on meet ups with friends and experienced presenters at the conference.


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Mental Health and ELT #2

Brain_Tree_Roots_Psychology_Mental_Health (Pixabay)

The roots of our mental health (photo credit: Pixabay)

I have just been accepted to give a talk at the IATEFL conference in Brighton next year. It will be my first proper conference talk having joined this organisation in 2012 and watched many others do so.  While being excited by the prospect, I also feel somewhat daunted by it – especially given the topic I want to discuss.  Earlier this year, I gave an interview about my own mental health issues in relation to working in the English Teaching profession and how it had affected my career.  I wasn’t sure if a conversation about mental health in ELT had already begun within this industry or to what extent other teachers had already written about it. I subsequently found that quite a few already have and more teaching professionals have added their voice this year. I have been collating blog posts but now comes the next stage.

I would be very grateful if people who work within English Language Teaching, whatever their role, could complete my survey.  This research will form part of my talk and I will also publish the results in April 2018, around the time of the talk.  I am not looking for statistics – just qualitative responses!  I give all assurances to confidentiality, anonymity and data protection in the survey.  Most of the questions are optional, including all that relate to personal information.  Furthermore, I will follow the British Association for Applied Linguistics’ recommendations on good practice at all stages before following-up and before any publication of the results.

Please see the preview below or click here to access the survey.   Then once you have completed it please share with colleagues, employers and other interested parties. Hopefully, it will generate some great responses on this important topic.

Below is the short link to the survey if you wish to copy and paste into your blog or social media:


Update: I will stop receiving new responses and close the survey on 21 December.

Thank you for visiting.



IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #2

This is part two of a review of some of the sessions that I attended at IATEFL 2017 at the SEC and Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. as well as some online content recorded and hosted by IATEFL Online and the British Council. This post is part of my of my commitment as a registered blogger for the event.  All of this content was watched afterwards as I was too busy taking part in Glasgow, although I was present at some of the sessions.  All the embedded videos should be playable from within this page or you can click on the titles which are links to both the recording and any associated documents (PDFs).

Glasgow 2017 (145)


Marina Kladova

Marina Kladova, who is based in Moscow, presented on the topic of ‘how to become a teacherpreneur?‘  I had not really heard this portmanteau until earlier this year when Patrice Palmer (@eltwisdom) reacted on Twitter to my post in February about going self-employed and subsequently interviewed me.  Kladova actually shared a quote from Palmer early on:

“A teacherpreneur is a creative classroom teacher who is both an educator and an entrepreneur; works a flexible schedule and supplements his/her income by creating and developing teaching and learning products “

It is also “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled” (Eisenmann, T. 2013). Kladova’s own definition is that it is a mindset towards a teacher’s career based on leadership and relentless search for opportunities to make a difference, share the knowledge and expertise and create something innovative and unique which can be both for profit and non-profit.

She shared her experience of how she transitioned from simply being a teacher to teacherpreneur. She spoke about frustration being employed and her ambition to diversify but felt that owning her own language school was unrealistic.  Taught via Skype, via a hobby of windsurfing.  Offer English as part of a windsurfing course. Financially rewarding.  Able to travel more.

She asked the audience what they understood by the term teacherpreneur (or edupreneur).  She quickly delivered some areas of diversifying before asking the audience how to approach this via what they are good at: products (such as online courses, materials writing), education (e.g. webinars, Edutainment trips), consulting  (e.g. external assessment of teachers, proofreading), commission  (e.g. travel agency – selling tours) and several other ideas.

She had clearly put a lot of thought and work into this and had a lot to offer from personal experience.  She finished by talking about action plans and how to find opportunities, such as observing trends.

Link here as embed code not working.

Clare Walsh and Lindsay Warwick Session - Confidence mixed IELTS classes

Clare Walsh and Lindsay Warwick presented a Pearson session on Managing student confidence and expectations in mixed level IELTS classes.   They raised some issues in teaching mixed classes preparing for IELTS and offered some techniques. Clare suggested they were looking at the ‘Boss battle’ band 6, which I know to be an important goal for many, although 6.5 is often the minimum for UK university entrance.  They were not talking about generally building self-esteem, but more improving self-confidence in the students’ abilities to do the tasks along the lines of Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. Managing the level of challenge aids engagement.  Self-confidence can be manipulated by situation, leading to positive effect on learning outcomes.

Lindsay spoke eloquently about IELTS speaking – discussion questions.  The objective could be defined something like this:

By the end of the lesson, students will be (better) able to justify an opinion coherently using complex sentences.

In a mixed ability class this is ideal but not realistic. This appeals to that middle ground – but stronger students might not feel challenged enough while weaker students might lose confidence and withdraw.  One technique offered is to aim for differentiated objectives for students’ abilities.  Be clear and upfront about these objectives to let students decide what is achievable and take responsibility for their own learning. She gave some examples of activities, such as one where some linking words were posted on the wall for the weaker students.  For stronger ones, further prompts on the wall ask them to come up with an alternative answer.     There was a nice observation on how (over-) confident students initially reject the support offered but often require it eventually.  Close monitoring is important, too, to avoid students being lazy.  She demonstrated the wall prompts during an audience activity on a differentiating a writing task, before providing some suggestions, such as modelling and writing frames.

Clare looked at receptive skills – listening with multiple choices and reading – true, false and not given questions.  This tricky task was circumvented by taking away more difficult questions (not givens) and simplifying the task for weaker students.  Also simplifying questions for the Matching headings task, and reducing the number of options as having ten possible headings is often too confusing for students.  Again, there was an element of encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. They neatly summarised their session at the end.Clare Walsh - Differentiated learning

This interesting session gave me some food for thought and reminded me of the importance of differentiation and both challenging stronger students, helping weaker students and not assuming they are as strong or as weak as they perceive.

Rachael Harris Workshop (2)

On Wednesday, Rachel Harris, newsletter editor of the new IP&SEN SIG, spoke about Teaching well-being to teens.  I already knew her on social media as Rachael ‘Fabenglishteacher’ and I met her for the first time before this session. This workshop focused on well-being in one’s self, within a group and also in relation to learning.  Teachers are in a prime position to help with well-being issues.   She feels there is a place for meditation but not everyone agrees. So her activities are designed to help students feel better, without questioning how, why or whether they are enjoying the learning.   Many educators (esp institutional managers) are quite dismissive, I believe, of so-called ‘touchy-feely’ stuff, but there is a place for it.  Learning can be more difficult for students.  As someone who has suffered from poor mental health as a teacher I could relate to this and got something out of it, even though I don’t currently teach teens. But it reinforced my idea for a talk aimed at well-being of teachers.  She talked about BHAGS and babysteps, a hashtag I use myself when talking about the early stages of getting involved in a project or a committee.  During this session I found myself tweeting in sync with Joanna Budden, who also I met for the first time and who gave a presentation during the LTSIG day, which I also attended.  The recording of Rachael’s workshop is below:

Glasgow iPad (110)

Jamie Keddie ‘rocked’ the Clyde auditorium on Wednesday. I say ‘rocked’ because he was on the biggest stage at conference,  ‘Don’t Stop Believin” played before he came on and his front row appeared to be full of female fans ready to throw an article of clothing!  (I’m joking!)  He joked his way through a long lead-in telling a gag about Pina Coladas and the Glaswegian accent, then a story about a hungry old man and a bacon sandwich. He later referred to some feedback where he was warned not to turn his lesson into a ‘Jamie show’.  ‘Misunderstandings’, to continue with the analogy, is probably one of his biggest hits!  He elicits very well, of course, as his new book ‘Videotelling’ encourages teachers to do.  This session on Developing Teacher Talk moved into the area of misunderstandings between teacher and student. It was a practical presentation, in which he argued that teacher talk should be developed not discouraged.  TTT – teacher talk(ing) time – which he says sounds like a daytime TV programme can be overdone but he tried to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ TT.  He believes ‘awareness’ is crucial to avoid bad TT and this takes years to develop.  ‘Keddie’s Half Hour’ included jokes, true, but it made some good points.  He ended with three suggestions including dropping the word ‘time’, embrace storytelling and added a postscript to the warning over TT. There was an online follow-up session one week later, in which he directly addressed the issue of being a ‘performing’ learning-centred teacher.

Jamie Keddie tweet





Not every session was officially recorded for IATEFL online and one of those was the annual, traditional Pecha Kucha. Fortunately, I was there in Lomond to watch it live, while some participants captured sections of it. This event occurred on Thursday evening and was the quick fire 6 min 40 sec 20 slides talk.  It usually includes humour and, boy, did it!  Speakers included Dorothy Zemach and Jamie Keddie. For the first time there was a fantastic Pecha Kucha debate: ‘This house believes teachers should be paid more than bankers’.  The obviously biased proposal clearly won, with the teachers (Sandy Millin, Jo Gakonga) preaching to the converted, though the bowler-hatted ‘bankers’ (Andy Cowle, Caroline Moore) did a great job of trying to convince us otherwise.  My personal PK highlight, however, was Marisa Constantinides’ very irreverent talk on what to do and what not to do as a teacher.  Had I known what was coming I would have recorded it (2nd/3rd conditional?).  Luckily, Tyson Seburn had his ‘camera’ rolling…

There was a 2 hour symposium on Teacher-research for difficult circumstances on Thursday, introduced by my former tutor at the University of Warwick, ReSIG outreach coordinator and curator of the ELT archive, Richard Smith, along with Prem Phyak. It was co-presented by Paula Rebodello (British Council/Mineduc Chile), Michelle Evans (Warwick), Asil Lidice Gokturk Saglam (Ozyegin), Cameroon’s Harry Kuchah (Bath) and Annamaria Pinter (Warwick) and Rama Mathew.  There is a playlist of videos from this. These were recorded by those involved in the symposium, not by British Council or IATEFL online.  Recordings like these supplement the aforementioned coverage.

Richard Smith - Teacher-research Symposium

Some featured Interviews:

IATEFL Online BC 2017 Interviews

As I stated in the previous post, there are 70 interviews available, which were recorded throughout the conference.  I have featured a number here which I found particularly interesting.  There are loads more at IATEFL Online.

Varinder Unlu was asked about the newest Special Interest Group, IP & SEN, which includes my friends, Sharon Noseley and Rachael Harris on the committee.

Angelos Bollas was interviewed by guest host, Scott Thornbury, about the issue of ‘hetereonormality’ in ELT and LGBT representation in coursebook and other materials. This exchange between two gay men provided an excellent exploration which delved deep into the issue and has been widely shared.  I was glad to finally meet Angelos at this conference, go for a meal and watch him co-present the Pecha Kucha.  I was not able to attend his talk as I forgot to add it to my agenda in the conference app and didn’t realise it had taken place until later.  Fortunately, Marisa Constantinides, also of CELT ATHENS and #ELTchat, was this time on the other end of the camera and recorded it on Livestream – her recording is here. There are also some photos from the TDSIG day c/o Michael Harrison.  Interview below:

Here is an interview with Nick Bilbrough, Shereen Irziquat and Salam Affouni.  Nick talks his session on Drama with a small ‘d’ with low-level learners. He linked to children in Gaza as part of the Hands Up! project.  Nick and Salam talk about their experience as British Council trainers in Gaza and Shereen gives her perspective as a trainee working with Palestinian teachers in UNRWA schools.

[Viddler ID=8eaf62d7]    or link here (as embed code doesn’t seem to be working)

Glasgow 2017 (16)

I had the pleasure of meeting roving reporter Sagun Shrestha from Nepal at the LTSIG TDSIG PCE.  He spoke to me at lunch and afterwards about what he is doing with his local association (NELTA) and at Warwick. He is one of the current cohort of A.S.Hornby Educational Trust Scholars.  These twelve scholars presented at IATEFL in Forth on the topic of ‘Factors influencing English language teacher motivation‘.  The recording can be seen below:

Tyson Seburn who was asked about the Teacher Development SIG carnival, a day for professional development supported through social media.  I have just rejoined this SIG and hope to take part next January.

Here is an interview with another friend, Über tweeter (no not the taxi company) and serial blogger, Sandy Millin, about writing for the new IATEFL blog > blog.iatefl.org.

And finally… Richard Smith (again) and Shelagh Rixon have produced a publication called ‘A History of iatefl’, to coincide with the (I)ATEFL’s 50th birthday. The book had a long gestation period.  They gave a presentation on its release in the auditorium on Wednesday evening.  I was otherwise engaged in a social event but thankfully there was an interview with the authors. Richard kindly read and left a comment on my previous post. His book was posted (by snail mail) on the day of the talk and was waiting for me (as well as every other current IATEFL member/delegate) when I got home from Glasgow and will also be made available online for free. A nice surprise!  It looks like a very informative account of the association which I joined in 2012 (when it was 45!) and have been a member since.

History of iatefl book


IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #1

IATEFL Conference 2017 – A review #1

This is part one of a review of some of the sessions that I attended at IATEFL 2017 at the SEC and Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. as well as the online content recorded and hosted by IATEFL Online and the British Council. There are 39 recorded and published sessions in total, including all five plenaries, and around 70 interviews on the website. The full conference programme is still available here.  This post is part of my of my commitment as a registered blogger for the event.  All of this content was watched afterwards as I was too busy taking part in Glasgow, although I was present at some of the sessions.  All the embedded videos should be playable from within this page or you can click on the titles which are links to both the recording and any associated documents (PDFs). I review two of the five plenaries in detail here, before briefly talking about a third.  In addition, there is a review of the ‘Outside In – Technology’ session. A second post will review some more of the sessions and highlight some interviews

Tuesday 4 April

Empowering teachers through continued professional development: frameworks, practices and promises – Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

I had the pleasure of meeting Uruguayan Diaz Maggioli at the joint LTSIG / TDSIG PCE the day before his plenary, where he give a presentation on design thinking and online professional development.  He was losing his voice, but fortunately made a recovery, despite a few coughs and swigs of water during his talk.     His slides for his plenary included illustrations by Lucía Pascal.  It was a great kick off for the conference proper on a widely discussed topic.

He took us back to a reality check from 2002:

“…while particular ‘lighthouse’ schools and school systems are the exception, my sense is that professional development as it is experienced by most teachers and principals is pretty much like it has always been—unfocused, insufficient, and irrelevant to the day-to-day problems faced by front line educators. Put another way, a great deal more is known today about good staff development than is regularly practiced in schools.” Dennis Sparks, 2002

15 years later, he looked at research on PD (professional development) from 2002-17 and found that we are still oscillating between two forms of radically different PD experiences, such as fragmented, piecemeal improvements vs strategically designed, system vs school focused, teacher as adult learner vs student needs.  Most PD was done away from the school but nowadays there is a realisation that it has to be job embedded.

At the core of the literature was the view that a lot of PD are advancing through top-down reforms rather than teacher-led. The view is that teachers need to be ‘fixed’.  But ‘learning communities’ are better, although he uses this term with caution. These communities are individuals who come together because of mutual interest and can be short term.  This tug-of-war between two strategies exists, offering two kinds of visions of what PD should be. Diaz Maggioli argues the teacher should be a ‘transformative intellectual’  who knows how to constantly question from evidence with his/her involvement with students rather than being a ‘technician’, implementing policies from above.

Diaz Maggioli proposed in 2012 that effective PD involves several features:

Draws down targeted, specialist expertise. • Gives and receives structured peer support • Professional dialog rooted in evidence from trying new things. • Focus on why things work/don’t work and not on how. • Reflection as a way of practicing theory and theorizing practice. • Enquiry-oriented learning sustained over time. • Learning to learn from observing the practices of others. • The use of tools and protocols to help create coherence, sustain learning, ensure depth and make evidence collection and analysis manageable and useful. • Done with teachers, and not to teachers.

He spoke about a recent survey which he carried out and shared the results.  He wondered whether respondents belonged to a professional association.  9% belonged to international organisations while 71% belonged to local ones. What PD activities did they engage in?  Free webinars and general web surfing ranked high.  The number 1 activity to surf the web to find ideas to use in class. Much of it is done in their own free time, with their own funding and outside of their job.

He mentioned the LTSIG / TDSIG PCE where some participants revealed that they or colleagues still don’t know how to use a cellphone effectively, as well as the new IP & SEN SIG which developed from an interest in addressing this lack of PD for teachers working with students with special educational needs or ‘alternative learning styles’.

Criticisms of PD from the survey:

Disconnected from the reality of the classroom. • Too short. • No follow up. • Too much talking, very little doing. • Outdated. • Too low a level. • Cannot apply it. • No time to talk to colleagues. • No support implementing it.

Just 10% participants were involved in PD. Where are the 90%? asked Diaz Maggioli. He concluded that 15 years after Sparks’ book, PD is still traditional and untimely and is never tailored to individual needs. It is standardized in institutions. One size fits ‘most’ not all, he stated. It is also prescriptive, decontextualized and superficial.

His conclusions on what teachers need for develop professionally were 3 basic things: Time, affordability, support and follow up.  PD is futile and useless without these.  It is a ‘Utopia’ out there on a horizon which is never reached. Real life PD is “timely, job embedded, personalized and collegial.”  He offered the long standing ‘teacher’s choice framework’ (2004) which requires honesty from the participants. This places PD on an ‘updated / outdated’ + ‘aware / unaware’ quadrant.

He went on to describe working in communities, outlining various kinds of coaching, study groups, critical friends’ teams, mentoring, learning circles, collaborative action research and exploratory action research.

He concluded by offering what we can do about PD:

Explore one of these strategies in depth and share it with colleagues. • Help administrators find resources to start a pilot program (small scale). • Talk to colleagues and administrators to start a discussion about embedding PD in your workplace. • Come up with your own PD strategy and share it with the world.

He asked us to get involved, not just in IATEFL or TESOL, but in one of the Special Interest Groups, of which there are now 16.

I am a member of TDSIG.  My impression was that professional development is now in a better state than 2002 and was portrayed at the beginning of this talk. But clearly there is still a long way to go and there are many barriers and too much top-down decision making to make it effective.  But there are lots of options as he outlined towards the end.

What about freelancers?  What do they do?  Well I recently went self-employed so have taken full responsibility for my own PD, but attending a conference such as this is high on that list, but it costs a lot of money top get there and attend (best part of £1000 for the whole week) and there are no discounts for the self-employed, those who don’t have a publisher or a scholarship.  I have to develop my own affordable strategies, too.  But there are plenty of online options these days, not least the huge number of IATEFL or related webinars.  Being part of a wide range of Facebook groups, such as ‘Blog posts for teachers’ and ‘Webinars for English Teachers’ can also aid PD.  There is also #ELTchat, of course, which meets on Twitter once a week.

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli

Also on Tuesday 4 April was the Cambridge English sponsored Outside in:  bringing new Technology perspectives to ELT hour long session / panel discussion in Forth.  It was presented and chaired by Michael Carrier and featured four experts in using technology.  Here’s the abstract of the session:

Outside in Session

Outside In

and the recording is here:

As a member of the LTSIG, I was very interested to hear what the distinguished panel brought to this session.  It was actually a last minute decision not to attend the British Council signature event on refugees which took place at the same time in the Clyde auditorium.

The chair first invited the audience to answer two ongoing questions via Glisser.   One of these questions asked ‘How much would you welcome the impact of the outside digital world inside ELT?’  “Digital learning is here to stay and that resistance is futile”, Carrier stated in his introduction. So one of the answers,  which referred to it being unavoidable,  made this a somewhat leading question, although I would argue he was asking whether it should be used inside ELT.   Speech enabled technology, augmented reality and the internet of things were some of the areas flagged up in the introduction.  He also questioned whether institutions drove many decision on purchasing technology for use by teachers and whether Interactive Whiteboards deserved a place in the classroom.

Donald Clark spoke only about Artificial Intelligence.  Technology is always ahead of the culture and sociology, while pedagogy is a poor third, he stated.  Most language learning occurs outside of the classroom.  For English, Clark regularly finds that English is learnt via YouTube, music and movies – often by using illegal torrent downloads.  AI is the new UI.  We already use it. Social media and using Google is AI, he stressed.   It is already tackling some of serious issues of  teaching and learning of languages.  Chatbots (e.g. Cortana, Siri and alexa), are becoming commonplace.   I am personally skeptical because they are not something I like using. It’s all very well speaking your search term question into Google but I don’t particularly want to be reliant on it.  I don’t use Siri (on my iPhone) or Cortana (on Windows 10). But the Croatian Maths homework app (photomaths) looked cool as all the steps (the teaching) are included.  The unbiased and quick Georgia Techbot was nominated for an award.  He gave a few more examples before reiterating that ‘Resistance is futile’, folks!

Yvonne Rogers stated that we don’t want is digital bubbles in their own worlds. Collaborative learning is much better. Life sentences is one such open-sourced tool, which is loved by students.  Learning is inadvertent so could be used for more tricky grammar. Pokemon Go opened the way for augmented reality and motivated play in the real world.  Learning in context will increase.  Microsoft’s HoloLens doesn’t make the user feel sick like a lot of augmented reality does.  Interactive wearables were shown. One example showed an LED light that shows food going into the stomach.  As well as Alexa, an advert for Google Home showed how a resident can get everything done they want to just from instructing the device. Again, I have personal reservations about this – asking the device to play room in your son’s bedroom to get him up is all well and good but what’s wrong with asking his sibling to give him an imperative?  Roam.I made its debut at the London 2012 Olympics. Clunky robots have been around for ages, but can commercial ones out help in the classroom?  I know that in Japan and South Korea they are already being used.  Her take-away message included the view that new technologies should be   allow for playful, engaging and creative language learning in situ. Collaboration using the same device, not individual device use is important, so sharing of school owned devices is one way forward. This has already been tried in many settings.

I first met Paul Driver in Barcelona, where he gave a fascinating talk at the first Image conference.  He has produced a Cambridge book called Language Learning with Digital Video with Ben Goldstein. He was also the only panel member who (still) works inside ELT.   He disagreed slightly with Donald’s assessment over huge pedagogic change. The way that technology is used isn’t, he argues, particularly pedagogically innovative.  Driver is a great example of a teachers who has lead the way with geo-location GPS games.  In Portugal, he devised the game ‘Invader’ using map reading and I’ve also seen his incredibly innovative ‘Spywalk’ in that Barcelona talk. 3D Printing is another possibility for Task-based learning.  He mentioned ‘greenscreening’ (which was later demonstrated to great effect by Joe Dale in the LTSIG day) as very accessible now.   Removing (Krashen’s) ‘affective filter’ occurs regularly with certain kinds of technologies.  Like another big game-based learning advocate, David Dodgson, he dislikes ‘gamification’ as a motivational tool, which he describes a ‘low hanging fruit’.   Intrinsic motivation is quite powerful with GBL. He has used VR on CELTA courses for teacher training, which most people would never have even considered as a possibility, including the session host.  But I would argue that Driver is in the top %1 of teachers currently using technology in innovative ways.

Geoff Stead gave a brief overview of his personal experience – prisons, vocational colleges, military medics. No teachers.  But at the other extreme, running a team of mobile developers in huge American tech company, which built over 100 apps. At Cambridge he has realised edtech is about seeking that perfect fir to particular contexts. He spoke about a couple of exploratory projects.   Cambridge English have developed both ‘Quiz your English’ and Write & Improve.  Using machine learning to practice before submission.   He also discussed Google Cardboard as an effective way of reducing anxiety, through what I understand to be ‘exposure therapy’.  Their 360 degree pilots on speaking tests uses a desensitising approach to learning.  Research is ongoing, with students already saying they feel much happier using this.  CE don’t know which technologies are going to work yet.  In this respect they have launched a BETA version of ‘the Digital Teacher’, a new website which was demonstrated to delegates at the LTSIG/TDSIG PCE the day before, which Stead made a reference to at the end.  Twenty minutes of questions and discussion followed.

Outside In (2) questions

Wednesday 5 April: Connecting minds: lanrguage learner and teacher psychologies Sarah Mercer.

Language learning is a deeply social and emotional undertaking for both teachers and learners. Mercer reflected on the fundamental role played by psychology in the learning and teaching of foreign languages. She showed how crucial an understanding of psychology is, given that people and their relationships lie at the heart of the teaching/learning interaction.

Mercer began with a ‘inspiring’ video of Barry White greeting his students with unique greetings. It was clearly about generating rapport and, possibly, trust, to make the point that we still need teachers.

Language learning is more than just about motivation, cognition or an abstracted, internal mind, she stated.  “Psychologically wise teachers can make a huge difference to their learners” (Duckworth, 2016).  They do 3 essential things, which she covered. They:

(1) develop positive relationships

(2) focus on positivity and growth

(3) nurture their own professional well-being.

(1)  She goes into each of these in detail on the video, showing the educator, Rita Pearson, talking about the power of relationships.  She states that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  A lot of rapport is about getting students to ‘like’ you, however, as well as creating trust.  But I’m not sure this is always necessary.  I certainly felt it when I started my career but it’s not essential in my view.

Language teaching, she argued, needs social and emotional intelligence, as well as socio-cultural competence.  The teaching profession attracts people like this already, but wanted to remind us how important this is.  Sarah asked the audience what qualities or relationships were important to us.  I mentioned trust and honesty to the person next to me.  They offered (mutual) respect.  These three qualities appeared at the top of a list (Roffey, 2011).  There was also reciprocity and feeling comfortable and enjoying being together.

Her own research looked at developing positive relationships (Gkonou & Mercer, 2017) and how to make ‘deposits’, based on the idea of an ’emotional bank account’ (Covey, 2004).  She looked at how teachers, who scored highly on emotional/social intelligence made these deposits:

1. Work on mutual trust & respect  – this is earned. Reliability. Consistency. Promoting Autonomy.  Self-disclosure. The last one is something I do. I personalise the lesson by sharing appropriate information about myself as well as that of the student.

2. Be empathetic.  Trying to imagine and understand what it is like from their point of view.  Non verbal signals are also key here.

3. Be responsive to learner individuality.   I agree that knowing student names, as early as possible, is crucial.   I try these, even my class is full of Chinese students who have adopted ‘English’ names, which I’m not a fan of.

Mercer highlighted this quote about the nature of relationships:

“An extensive body of research suggests the importance of close, caring teacher-student relationships and high quality peer relationships for students’ academic self-perceptions, school engagement, motivation, learning, and performance” (Furrer, Skinner & Pitzer, 2014, p.102)

Learners are more frightened of talking in front of their peers than their teachers according to other research, she stated, and we need to develop positive relationships between learners in our classroom.  Knowing each other’s names is key, too.

(2) Mercer used the same reference as Tony Price in his talk on ‘activities that can change attitudes’.   What we believe about our abilities – our ‘mindsets’ or implicit theories (Dweck, 2006) are so deeply rooted that we are not aware of them.  The ‘Fixed’ mindset is believing our abilities or intelligence are given (to us) and can’t be changed.  The ‘growth’ mindset says our these attributes are more malleable and can be developed.  Mindsets are the foundation for what happens afterwards, according to Mercer.  If you don’t believe you can change, why even try.   She outlined attitudes of people with both ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets.  These are very prevalent in language learning.  Now I’ve often believed that I am not very good at learning languages myself, but this is probably not true and is based on having a fixed mindset.  It was something Tony Price also personalised when he made the same reference.  Mindsets are domain specific which means a distinction can be made between different language (macro) skills – speaking or pronunciation, for example.   Teachers have mindsets, too.  Mercer’s research  on teaching competencies highlighted the belief amongst many teachers that they couldn’t develop their interpersonal skills.  Again, if a teacher does not believe that they can improve their abilities, why bother.  A teacher can be a role model in promoting a growth mindset in their learners.  But this is not enough.  Strategic planning is also very important, she believes.

‘Strength spotting’ (Linley, 2008) is not just about focusing on our weaknesses.  People often have a negative bias which she claimed is human nature – where we obsess, for example, about the one negative piece of feedback over several positive pieces. This is something I have to develop myself.  I try to ignore the voice inside my head that focuses on the negative and, instead, focus on the things that have gone well. Mercer invited delegates to share something positive about themselves.  Are we conditioned to stress what we are not good at, though?  Maybe it’s part of how we wish to be perceived.  For CVs and job interviews, for examples, we only dwell on positive things, so this isn’t necessarily true, I feel.

She talked about positive emotions and the Broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 2001, 2012).  This resonates with Krashen’s ‘Affective Filter’ theory.  She mentioned the ‘flight or fight’ response for negative emotions, which I know to be associated with panic attacks. Reducing anxiety is important but when we engage with positive emotions, we are more creative and experimental. These build resources and create new competencies.

(3)   T is the most important letter in IATEFL as it refers to teachers, she stated.

“There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. {They] are the lifeblood of the success of schools.” (Ken Robinson)

Mercer’s final section dealt with teachers who nurture their own professional well-being. You can’t pour from an empty cup and teachers need to care of themselves first. Our psychology is closely related to that of our learners.  Reciprocity is ‘neuro’ mirroring, it’s catching!    She talked about happiness at work.  The judgement error is that being successful at work will make us happy when, in fact, it’s the reverse of this.

Her final points really struck a chord with me.  Teaching is inherently stressful. Stress management is highly important.   Teachers who suffer from perfectionism bring a motivational force but can hinder our performance when things don’t go as planned. She showed a slide (below) and drew on  Self-compassion is about not being hard on yourself.  We have to make sure that we are not overstretching ourselves, that we learn to say no and set boundaries for the sake of our physical and mental well-being.

Teacher professional wellbeing is not an indulgence, it is a necessity for good teaching (Roffey, 2011, p. 133)

This is inspiring, I feel and of huge, personal relevance to me having made the decision recently to go self-employed and take charge of when and where I work.   My own mental health is paramount when I consider taking on a new role.  That role needs to be suitable for me. Mercer’s plenary was my favourite this week.

Stress Management For Teachers (Mercer)

Sarah Mercer

Thursday 6 AprilELT and social justice: opportunities in a time of chaos – JJ Wilson

I was keen to hear JJ Wilson’s talk having written an #ELTchat summary last November about ‘Teaching diversity, inclusion and social justice issues’, in which this plenary at IATEFL was flagged up.

I was suffering a little bit on Thursday morning, watched it online and didn’t really take it in at the time.  I’ve since watched it back and have come to this very short review having read (some of) a very critical opinion about it “turning radical pedagogy into dross”.

I know JJ Wilson’s name, having seen it an old coursebook, the (totally tropical) ‘Total English’, that somebody gave me recently when I started teaching privately.  In addition, I bought a Flexi version of ‘Speak Out’ during the conference. But I have never heard of Paulo Freire or his book, ‘The pedagogy of the oppressed’, which Wilson made reference to.  I’m not in a position, therefore, to comment at great length about his plenary.  But to a certain extent, I agree with the view that this was slickly produced stuff. From the moment he said that he came from ‘a place of privilege’, I was immediately put off.  It was more an ‘inspiring’ TED talk on steroids with all the earnestness of Bono (from U2).   He also said he came from a community of struggle and his battle with racism but I didn’t get the impression that he had.  It appeared to be more of an ego trip, such as encouraging the delegates to reassure him that he [is] still a young man!  He bragged about reading of the whole of Freire’s book, not just the Amazon reviews. He sung a lyric by Bob Marley without stating that it was called ‘Redemption Song’.  It was an over-confident, disappointing plenary and didn’t convince me.  Almost as far from critical pedagogy as you could get.  Maybe the fact it was a plenary softened the message through rose-coloured spectacles.  Anyway, I don’t wish to dwell on this, however, as he appears to be a well-respected writer and speaker.  I can see why this particular plenary was lauded by some, but very empty and paying lip-service to social justice for others.  Watch it and decide for yourself.


Mental Health and ELT



I am starting a conversation about mental health in English Language Teaching.  I am not sure if this has ever been discussed or debated widely within the industry.  In doing so, I am sharing some personal information about my experience of suffering from poor mental health at work. I do this in the hope that other teachers will open up, too, leading to more understanding and support for teachers as workers.  I have never known professional development or training within ELT deal with these kinds of issues. For many, a stigma still exists.  There is still a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance.  It is an ongoing challenge.

In the past, I have volunteered for the mental health charity, Norwich Mind, and am hoping to do something for them again in the near future. I was and still am intrinsically motivated. I also follow the Time To Change campaign which is foremost about ending discrimination, mostly in the workplace, against people who suffer with mental health issues.

I’ve always considered my own issues to be a personal thing, not one of institutional discrimination or workers’ rights. Nonetheless, to coincide with the national Time To Talk day, I’ve been interviewed by Paul Walsh for the Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group (TaWSIG). You can read the interview here.

The image on the right shows a censored version of my diary note (written on 10 October 2016) listing the 11 times since 2006 that poor mental health has impacted on my teaching career, including 2 trips to the IATEFL conference in Liverpool (2013) and Harrogate (2014).  I have redacted the details to protect myself and colleagues who worked with me or were my line managers at the time.



If the post proves to be popular then I might consider the possibility of speaking about it at a conference at a later date.  I’ve never seen this particular topic presented within our profession but am curious to know if it has been.

Please feel free to comment here or on the TaWSIG  site. I promise to personally respond to each and every one that leaves a message.

*update 6 Feb:  The interview post received hundreds of views in a few days. In the week following its publication, it was shared many times on social media. It inspired at least two other bloggers, Sandy Millin and Elly Setterfield to write their own personal responses to coincide with Time to Talk day, including lots of links and resources on this topic.  I was thrilled by the response and hope to follow this up at a later date.  In the meantime, I am planning on approaching Mind once more to see if they have any work for me.

*further update 23 Apr 2018:  A edited clip from the interview recording about a single trigger behind having a panic attack – the basis for the quotation above.