IATEFL 2018 – My Week in Brighton

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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’!

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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.

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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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Virtual Reality in Use

ELTchat Virtual-Reality header

On 22 Nov 2017 the #ELTchat was on the topic of ‘Virtual Reality In Use’.  This is a written summary of the chat, while an enhanced video showing some of the sites mentioned and a chat between the joint summary writers is at the end.

The question to kick start was about the VR headsets available in the market. One of the participants mentioned Google Cardboard Box, the affordable Google VR set for schools. As there were doubts because some participants were not familiar with this VR possibility, this site was suggested for quick research. Google Cardboard is a VR headset that you put your phone into. There are various VR apps which can be used on the phone and seen through the Cardboard headset, noted @carolrainbow. She pointed out that some other apps or sites related to school subjects as geography and biology could be found, but not specifically for ELT as far as she knows.  @fionaljp shared a link to some educational resources from Class Tech tips for using VR, as well as some tips for getting started with 360 photos. 

ELTchat newcomer, @paulinobrener said he hadn’t used VR in the classroom but would love to use VR in his online classes. He would meet students in virtual spaces such as this. Like we used to do in Second Life suggested @angelos_bollas, who added that it was better for online classes but maybe VR is better in face-to-face ones. @carolrainbow still meets people in Second Life.  You can’t get anything more immersive than a virtual world in her opinion.  Marisa_C agreed and felt @carolrainbow was a virtual worlds guru and mentor, with thousands of great SL photos of virtual trips, holodecks and more! @paulinobrener felt Facebook Spaces is arguably more immersive. It’s like SL but not in front of a monitor but with VR goggles in an immersive environment.

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Marisa Tweet

The chat moved on to what was actually the main purpose of the exchange, which was how to integrate the VR possibility to meaningful ELT classroom usage. @Marisa_C contributed with a blog on the theme of VR integration with elt syllabus from the LTSIG blog archive – here, written by @Rach_Ribeiro who was also taking part. @Angelos_bollas mentioned the possibility of ‘virtual trips’, while @fionaljp shared a link with some suggestions and asked about the 360° camera and VR headset. @Paulinobrener contributed with this link on VR integration and later on made his point that VR as entertaining as it is, doesn’t replace the teacher. @fionaljp brought up @Paul_Driver‘s idea of using VR for CELTA observation, as described in this link. She also shared Paul’s excellent presentation for Cambridge University Press – ‘A new perspective: Virtual Reality and Transmedia Spherical Video in Teacher Training.’ Paul later joined the chat. @Rach_Ribeiro shared more ideas from a blog post she wrote for Teaching English British Council.

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Another doubt had to do with what kind of video to use and where to find some options. @Marisa_C shared some YouTube samples which were recorded with a 360° camera. @fionaljp said she was interested in 360 filming for observation. @Rach_Ribeiro suggested that a ‘gopro camera ‘ or a mobile enabled to film 360° is necessary to create this – such as this one with elephants. You can use Google Street view to do 360° on a mobile device, offered @carolrainbow. The discussion later came back to the more technical aspect of using VR in relation to the equipment: smart phone, videos recorded in 360° or VR ready apps.  The need of some specialised training, as well as the fact it is just another tool, came up in the interaction between @paulinobrener and @angelos_bollas. The former shared a publication on the uses of mobile learning by @Shaunwilden, who was also present. Shaun mentioned one of his favourite 360° sites – Google Spotlight Stories

@Angelos_bollas asked whether a new teacher would need some specialised training to use VR?  @paulinobrener replied that all teachers have (or should have) a strong foundation for teaching languages. VR is just another tool.  @angelos_bollas was talking more about VR training. @paulinobrener added that like any new tool you want to you, you need to know the teacher very well before implementing.  Or an old teacher, suggested @sueannan or any teacher added @seburnt.  @sergiolm21 said from his point of view no, but I would recommend you to try some Apps, experience it and see for yourself.

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@sergiolm21 stated that students love to use Google Expeditions when they have to do a writing activities describing places.  But what do they do whilst exploring? asked @carolrainbow. After the tour every group describes the place and finally present their tour orally to rest of the class, replied @sergiolm21. It depends on the students’ levels, suggested @Rach_Ribeiro – you can ask students what they see. @Shaunwilden argued that this could be done just as well using video on a phone, the immersive element doesn’t add to the language activity. Marisa_C agreed, adding that immersion tends to generate descriptive language while Second Life interactions can generate more genuine social ones.  @sergiolm21 stated that with AR or VR you can get more info than with a video, students can walk around the class and ‘explore’ what they are watching. Another positive aspect is that AR & VR could increase motivation.  Experienced educational technologist, @Paul_Driver, pointed out that the current limitations in the use of VR in ELT are mostly down to a lack of imagination more than anything technological.  

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@Shaunwilden says there is a little on 360 videos in his book on mobile learning, which was mentioned in the chat, but he remains unconvinced of VR in language teaching.  @angelos_bollas asked why he was not sold on the idea.  Shaun stated that, at the moment, it is no more than a glorified video player for language classes.

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@Marisa_C highlighted a key factor, that the teacher needs to scaffold and promote language use while the ‘trip’ is happening, which was strongly supported by many participants. Furthermore, in her wrap up note, @Marisa_C also reminded everyone of the LTSIG Pre conference event on 9 April 2018, which will be on the field of VR and AR researches applied to teaching EFL or ESL where both @Paul_Driver and @Rach_Ribeiro, along with other speakers will be sharing their experience and clarifying doubts the audience may have.

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About the summary writers:

Raquel Ribeiro is already a keen advocate and experienced user of virtual reality in the classroom. She will be presenting at the Learning Technologies Special Interest Group PCE at the IATEFL Conference in Brighton.  She recently received a donation of 30 Google Cardboard boxes from Google London and will be bringing some along to the event.

Phil Longwell has just purchased his first VR headset, ahead of the LTSIG PCE. He hasn’t got much experience of virtual reality, but did attend Kevin Spiteri’s session on this at ELT Malta. A clip of that session is here.

Here is an enhanced video showing some of the sites mentioned above and a chat about the topic between the summary writers:

 

An extended version of the chat between the summary writers, which has a further discussion of the topic and the possible uses of VR in education, is here.

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Header image: http://cryptocurry.com/news/innovative-vision-blockchain-virtual-reality/

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.

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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.

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IATEFL Conference 2017 – My week in Glasgow

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Clyde Auditorium and SEC, Glasgow

This is the first of three posts about the IATEFL conference held in Glasgow, 3-7 April 2017. It is my personal, reflective experience of the week. It is not a review of the sessions I attended or watched online.  That will be in my other two posts, which is part of my requirement of being one of the registered bloggers for the event.

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Sunday 2 April 

I travelled to the conference by train on Sunday 2 April, listening to my own Spotify playlist of Glasgow related artists.  The only conference delegate I met on Sunday, purposefully, was Diana Eastment scholarship winner, David Dodgson, at the Weatherspoons on Argyll Street. I stayed at a fellow Deacon Blue fan’s flat in Anderston. The last time I was in Glasgow was in December to see the band play at the iconic Barrowlands. The band retweeted my reference to one of their songs as I travelled back to the city on Sunday. My friend, who is wheelchair bound, mostly wanted to talk about her work at Kilmarnock Railway station – a local community project for disadvantaged people, many of whom have diagnosed mental health difficulties or are on the autistic spectrum.  My father has both a connection with Kilmarnock and the Barras as he used to ‘preach’ there in the 1960s.  He studied theology at the Bible Training Institute, Glasgow.   My first IATEFL conference was also here, in 2012.

Monday 3 April

On Monday, I attended the joint Learning Technologies / Teacher Development Special Interest Groups PCE. Stylised as ‘unLimiTeD professional development with technology’. I have been a member of the LTSIG since I joined IATEFL in 2012 and recently rejoined the TDSIG, having been a member for one year.

There were several talks and workshops.  There was an opening plenary on  ‘Applying startup thinking to teacher development’ by Nick Robinson and Jo Sayers of ELTjam and tech-related talks on the following:
● Teaching Old Dog New Tricks: Collaborative Inquiry (Patricia Reynolds)
● Design Thinking and Online Professional Development (Gabriel Diaz Maggioli)
● Click Like for Language Development (Teresa Carvalho)
● Teaching Teachers – How to Support Teachers Navigating the World of
Technology in Teaching (Katherine Anderton)
● Crowdsourcing the #MFLTwitterati, hashtags, Twitter lists, Padlet and
Storify for teacher development and classroom impact (Joe Dale)
● Integrating digital games: engaging young language learners and teacher
trainees in innovative learning environments. (Maria Diakou & Stella Kourieos)

In the afternoon there was an opportunity to meet each of the speakers and an open space where groups, who had been allocated a Digital Teacher postcard, circulated the room and discussed the topics raised by each of the table hosts.  In addition, there was a ‘moustache’ table about The Digital Teacher, which was led by Andrew Nye and Anna Lloyd of Cambridge English Language Assessment.  This new website is currently in the BETA stage, so is still being developed.  It was ‘live’ for the duration of the day so that participants could access it. In their workshop, Andrew and Anna displayed the resources available on the site via posters and asked for feedback from participants.  In my group was current Hornby scholar from Nepal, Sagun Shrestha. I had lunch with him and Tilly Harrison, from the University of Warwick.

Things were wrapped up at the end by Nicola Meldrum, who guided the participants on reflecting on the day’s innovations and invited them to share their experiences.  Michael Harrison took some photos of the PCE on behalf of TDSIG and can be viewed here.   Also present was LTSIG scholarship winner, Leung Wai Tung, who acted as a roving reporter and put together a fine video report of the day.  There are also some collected moments from the event hashtag #LTTD here.

After the event I attended a debrief session with the LTSIG committee members, during which I was formally welcomed as a sub-committee volunteer. I have been co-opted with an undefined role at this stage, but it might initially involve collecting and proof reading articles for the LTSIG blog and working with Sylvia Guinan, the website editor. I can’t be more involved in the committee at this stage as I would have to be elected.

On Monday evening, I attended the civic reception, during which outgoing IATEFL president, Marjorie Rosenberg, welcomed delegates. I caught up with a few more familiar faces, Jo Gakonga (also University of Warwick), Sue Annan (BESIG PCE) and Sandy Millin (MaWSIG PCE), before going for a meal with them alongside IATEFL committee member, Pecha Kucha 2017 host and current ELTchat moderator, Angelos Bollas.   I later had the pleasure of meeting psychology and mind mapping fan, Ron Morrain, for the first time.

Tuesday 4 April

On Tuesday, after Gabriel Diaz Maggioli’s opening plenary on ‘Empowering teachers through continued professional development’, I attended Johanna Stirling CUP talk on activities for low-level literacy in EAP.  This session was recorded by Cambridge University Press and I was briefly involved in creating some words using the prefix ‘-un’ as Johanna briefly demonstrated some simple spelling points.

After this, I attended Theresa Clementson and Gary Hicks talk on ‘International students: can bridge the academic and cultural gap?’   As someone who has just been accepted to teach on a presessional course this summer, I was keen to attend a few EAP talks.  This one focused on designing effective courses and feedback from students at Brighton.

In the afternoon, I attended Tony Prince’s excellent workshop of ‘Activities that affect attitudes’.  I have previously met Tony at the Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE) where he is Academic Director.  For many years he ran the INTO_UEA presessional course. He drew upon his own personal experience of learning French and the common assumptions that are made about language learners.  He referenced the fixed and growth mindset (Carol Dweck) and Anders Ericsson.  He invited the participants to structure feedback based on failure and success, finishing with some myths (and reality) about attitudes.

I attended John Hughes’ presentation on ‘The Selfie Classroom Observation’, during which he shared his survey of 121 teachers, which I took part in last month.   I took extensive notes and photographs from this session and shared these via Evernote – here.

Later on, I cancelled my planned attendance of the British Council signature of refugees ‘Language for Resilience’ – knowing it was going to be recorded – in order to attend Outside In.  This very interesting Cambridge English panel discussion brought together four technology experts Geoff Stead, Donald Clark, Paul Driver and Yvonne Rogers.  They brought their experiences from outside the ELT world, talked about the technology we already use often without realising, the gap between what we do and what we could use in teaching. They looked at artificial intelligence, chatbots and machine translation, amongst many other things.  There is a recording of it here.  I will write a review about this in my follow-up post.

Outisde In - Panel DiscussionOutside In Panel Discussion Questions

Later in the evening, I attended the Meet The SIGs event in the Crowne Plaza. I initially felt overwhelmed by the huge numbers of people crammed into the room.  I don’t really ‘do’ claustrophobia.  But I got into it once I realised that all the SIG committee members were wearing a committee badge and had to be asked simple questions – 16 in all, one for each SIG.  It took a while, but I eventually got round to meeting someone from every SIG, which included the brand new IP & SEN SIG – the committee were giving out flyers (see below).   Two Facebook friends, Sharon Noseley and Rachel Harris are involved in this.  As well as briefly reconnecting with Lienhard Legenhausen (LASIG) and Rachael Roberts (MaWSIG) I also met, for the first time, representatives of LITSIG, Daniel Xerri (ReSIG), Dave Allan (TEASIG / NILE) and the incoming IATEFL president, Margit Szesztay (former GISIG coordinator) – who had been interviewed by IATEFL online earlier in the day.

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Wednesday 5 April

I took it easy on Wednesday, taking lots of breaks and selecting the occasional session. The day was bookended by two talks which had well-being at the centre. These were Sarah Mercer’s excellent plenary ‘Connecting minds: language learners and teacher psychologies’ and Rachel ‘fabenglishteacher’ Harris’ talk on well-being of teens.

There were two EAP related talks placed together in Ness. Susan Esnawy’s talk was about how to avoid plagiarism using journalists questions, while Barbara Howarth looked at paraphrasing with note taking.    After this, I bumped into and chatted to Nik Peachey just before he conducted an online interview with IATEFL patron, David Crystal.

I particularly enjoyed Laura Patsko’s Cambridge session on giving feedback on learner’s pronunciation.  She is very clear, as you would expect for the deputy journal editor of the Pronunciation SIG and specialist in English as a Lingua Franca.  She spent a lot of the session simply analysing ways to teach the word ‘cello’ and the question ‘What are you studying?’ Along with Johanna, she provided us with one of the glossiest handouts I received all week.  There is a recording here.

I spent a lot of this day going round the exhibition hall and talking to people, publishers and choosing a coursebook for two of my current students.  In the end, I chose to purchase Speak Out – Intermediate (2nd ed).  I spoke to English Teaching Professional editor in chief, Helena Gomm about a possible article, and caught up with Chia Suan Chong – who tweets for the publication.  I also held the fort and a cupcake for 5 minutes. Whilst I was there, I managed to snap this photo opportunity with the ETPedia authors..

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ETPedia Tweet

In the afternoon, Jamie Keddie ‘rocked’ the Clyde auditorium with his comical take on developing teacher talk, flanked by a ‘zombified’ cartoon image.  The recording is here.  I had earlier met Jamie in the exhibition hall as he signed his new book ‘Videotelling’.

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Feeling more chilled, I had a couple of drinks at the SEC bar before heading to Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, a specialist fish restaurant that happened to be located next door to my friend’s flat in Anderston.  Great company and great food, albeit quite pricey.  It was my one extravagance of the week. Otherwise I remained mostly sober all week 😀

Thursday 6 April

Thursday was the most active day of all, which I somehow negotiated with a hangover. I dragged myself to Chia Suan Chong’s early bird guidance on how to be a freelancer, before breakfast!  Following JJ Wilson’s disappointing plenary on ‘ELT and social justice: Opportunities in a Time of Chaos’, I took in several talks on a learning technologies theme. This was the LTSIG day, with presentations by David Read on ‘creating interactive EAP content’, Diana Conheeney & Maria Guiney on using student created videos for assessment and, before lunch, David Dodgson on ‘connected development and teacher reflection’. Immediately after this talk, I watched Sophia Mavridi being interviewed by Spanish vlogger, Amadeu Marin.   I make a brief appearance. That recording is here.

Joanna Budden presented on teenagers thriving in the digital world. There was Joe Dale’s quick fire green screening  app smash with included lots of funny moments, Nicky Hockley on myths and monsters and, finally, Gavin Dudeney’s teacher technology toolbox guide, which rounded off the day in a light-hearted way. Half way through was the LTSIG Open forum, where I was introduced by joint coordinator, Shaun Wilden, as a sub committee member.  I will write more about this whole day in a separate post for the LTSIG blog, once I have access to the recordings.  Meanwhile, there is a small slideshow of some of my photos below.  There is also a Storify of tweets and images from the day put together by Marisa Constantinides here.

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In addition to this, there was the annual Pecha Kucha (20 slides, 6min 40secs).  This was probably the funniest thing I saw or heard all week, aside from Marisa Constantinides coming up with the concept of the ‘flopped classroom’. Her very irreverent Pecha Kucha had the audience in hysterics. Although this event wasn’t streamed or recorded, Tyson Seburn manage to capture it – see here.  For the first time ever, so our presenters informed us, there was a PK debate where the ‘house’ proposed the motion that teachers should be paid more than bankers. Jo Gakonga and Sandy Millin were involved in winning the somewhat biased argument.  There is a recording somewhere..

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The evening was rounded off at a karaoke bar in Drury Street.  I wore my Deacon Blue ‘#Raintown’ T-Shirt but wasn’t brave enough to sing the song in front of a crowd of rowdy Glaswegians.  Those conference delegates that were present shall remain nameless, as they were relaxing after a hectic week.  But I enjoyed it and got to meet some more folk I had otherwise not spoken to up til that point.

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Friday 7 April

I didn’t stick around on Friday as I had to catch my train from Queens Street station in the morning and head back to Norfolk.  There wasn’t really time to pop back to the venue to say goodbyes. People would have been in sessions or busy anyway, so I decided to take my leave of this great city.  I failed to find all the places in the Day That Jackie Jumped The Jail but I’ve since heard that ‘the Budgie’ is a rough place, anyway!  The only people from the conference I saw were Adrian Underhill and Amadeu Marin at the hotel.   There are so many other things I would have liked to have seen or planned to see but never managed to get to.  Given that I am now involved in a refugee integration project in Norwich, I regret not seeing the presentations and discussions on refugees, especially Nick Bilborough talking about The Hands Up Project, which I have supported, and the British Council Signature Event – Language for Resilience.  The latter is, however, available online – here.  I regret missing Angelos Bollas original session on ‘De-idealising the hetereonormative self in the ELT classroom’ but there is an excellent Scott Thornbury hosted interview with Angelos here which I also tweeted about.  I also missed my former tutor at Warwick, Richard Smith, give a presentation on the history of IATEFL – but gladly received his and Shelagh Rixon’s book in the post once I arrived home.  Here it is pictured with the ELT METRO t-towel, which I bought off Tyson.

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It was definitely the best conference I have ever attended and that includes Glasgow 2012.   I compare that experience with how I approached the Glastonbury music festival for the first time. I was running around like a headless chicken trying to catch everything. When I returned in 2004 I was more measured and selective in what I saw, taking more breaks.  This applies to Glasgow 2012 and 2017.  This time around I felt able to pick and chose a little more, take lots of breaks and speak to people in the exhibition hall and other locations, rather than going to talk after talk.  Only on Monday and Thursday did I feel I needed to be part of the whole day, and even then I didn’t try to do too much.  I wanted to enjoy the conference as a delegate, not with any particular responsibility. In next year’s event in Brighton I hope to have more responsibilities and may do my first workshop.

All photos in this post are mine, except for ‘unnatural’ (Tyson Seburn), the still from the PCE Periscope stream (Shaun WIlden), the stills from the Outside In panel discussion, from the IATEFL online recording and Michael Harrison’s quiet image of the SEC below. Tyson also designed the logo for the joint PCE.

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