Hits and misses from the IATEFL Day One ‘pool

9 04 2013


So as promised, here’s what I got out of Day One at IATEFL. To be honest it feels like not very much, since I haven’t had much time to dedicate to it at all – just a few visits to twitter and a quick read through a few emails. I was hoping to watch the plenary session by David Crystal when I got home but then I got distracted by an irrational urge to make Delia’s braised red cabbage to go with the left overs from last night’s beef. Sorry, David, I promise I’ll watch it very soon (I have it on in the background as I write this). Here it is if you’d like to join me…

Congratulations too, David, on your new website launched today as well: http://www.davidcrystal.com something else to bookmark and come back to. Although I was all ready to explore The Memors until I read the description and came across the combination techno-fantasy and tweenagers – not for me then.

Anyway, back to IATEFL and the things that made my day…


The biggest hit of the day for me, popping in and out of the conference asynchronously from the other side of the world, was easily Sandy Millin and her various blog posts on the talks she attended. No idea how she managed to collect so much info about so many things into such short concise blog posts, although I imagine it had a lot to do with blending her tweets together skilfully. Wonderful stuff, Sandy, and most of my impression of day one comes from your posts, so looking forward to more over the next few days.

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of Sandy today was that she went to a few talks that I wouldn’t have wanted to go to, mainly because they seem more targeted towards ESL rather than EFL, which is my context. However, I was really interested in reading what she had to say about the following talks:

Penny Ur – Technology in ELT

Penny's conclusions - a means, not an end

Penny’s conclusions – a means, not an end

Seems from her conclusions Penny was talking a lot of sense and resonating with my own soundbite when it comes to technology – it’s not what you use or even how you use it but why you use it that counts. Penny’s ‘cautiously, critically, selectively’ mantra seems to reflect that. Though of course it’s also true of every activity we do in the classroom, not just ones using hi-tec specs.

I like this list that Penny shares of the things that technology offers us – word processing, editing tools, the internet, digital dictionaries, improved self-access, more and more engaging written interaction, more easily accessible audiovisual material, distance learning possibilities, and even interactive whiteboards (I’m still sceptical, but then I’ve never actually used one). All these things can help students learn – if we use them purposefully and they therefore give us something that other means don’t. So good common sense there then, but nothing new.

The downside and dangers she discussed aren’t new either, so let’s move on to the activities she offers. Nope, nothing new there either. Although I did come up with a new idea for a mobile lesson myself today, that may well have been discussed in Penny’s talk. I’ve just realised the power of having students with smartphones and the ease with which they can do quiet reading and research in the classroom.

This idea came out of a tweet I saw that wasn’t actually IATEFL linked, but very much linked to why I didn’t post yesterday:

Sean Banville Tweet

Yes, Thatcher died, and Sean has made a thirty activity lesson out of the news – incredibly impressive (not that I’ve had time to get beyond the quantity yet, but, yet again, I hope to have a look at some point), although it did make me think of a lesson about Thatcher I would do if I had a class at the moment (I’m CELTA training, though subbing Thursday night so I might try this out then), which wouldn’t involve any materials:

Lead-in – get the students to discuss the current news stories and see what they come up with (floods here in Argentina are much bigger news than the Iron Lady’s demise).

Steer conversation around to Thatcher and get the learners to discuss what they know about her and feel about the news of her death.

Lead the conversation towards the whole ‘she’s a saint’ / ‘dance on her grave’ debate and ask them for initial impressions.

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

Get the learners to research the topic. Tell them they have ten minutes to read up on the topic (this is where you need wifi and enough smartphones to at least be able to share in pairs / a computer room) and make notes in preparation for a debate.

Divide the class into two groups, one researches the positive side of Maggie, the other the negative side. It’s a good idea to elicit where they will go to get their stories (Facebook and TWitter are the obvious answers, along with the BBC and British newspapers).

After ten minutes research put each group together (or sub groups in a big class) and get them to share their research with each other.

After an initial comparison and exchange of info, introduce them to the idea of the debate, in which they’ll argue about the merits of Margaret. Quickly outline the debate schedule (I don’t have time to outline this here I’m afraid, wife will be home soon). And then off they go, debating Maggie (my debate format takes at least 45 minutes) to their hearts’ content – As v Bs.

It’s such a simple lesson (if you have the tech) and involves a range of skills – speaking, reading, negotiating, debating, note-taking, listening etc. And minimal preparation time. And of course you can use it again and again whenever you have a controversial news story. I hope Penny would approve of this lesson, since it’s a very simple and small use of technology that really helps the learners prepare for the main speaking task (and they can always go back for more if needs be).

So there you go, my free activity of the day – much more overt than the one in my intro IATEFL post (which only three of you found – have another look). Sorry, got to go and stir the cabbage:

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 9.21.46 PM

And so on to:

Victoria Boobyer – Implementing Handheld Learning

Seems the talk was much more about the practicalities of setting up the use of ipads rather than how to actually use them – there’s some good advice in there and many things I wouldn’t have thought of before taking a box of ipads into class (as if I’ll ever get the chance…) and a couple of fun activities are showcased at the end – picture poems and comic stories. Been getting students to write their own stories to comics for years, but it does waste a lot of Tippex, so this is definitely an area where technology helps.

Swiftly on to

Jim Scrivener – How to Demand High

which I’m very interested in cos I’m doing a talk on Demand High in Montevideo, Uruguay in May, so I wanted to see if Jim had added anything to his talk at the IH World DoS conference in January.

Judging by Sandy’s take, he has. I like the idea of getting the audience to think of ways to demand more of their students using one exercise (exactly what I’d planned to do next month) and then compare to his own.

Unfortunately from the photos I can’t see too much of Jim’s ideas on his handout – can anyone help?

I can only make out the following:

Checking answers without rubber stamping

Getting behind the answer



Various pronunciation exercises

Practice, memory, mistakes and being playful…

I imagine most of these are already in a few teachers repertoires and there’s a lot of benfit in encouraging more people to take them on board – less is definitely more and we need to take the time to spend quality time with and on language – I hope there’s some nice ways to do that here.

Which reminds me, I also came across this while trawling through twitter today:

Phil Keegan MLT

which sounds like a very helpful article for my talk next month. Roll on MET.

Missus is on way and cabbage needs turning again, here are a few more tweets I enjoyed today from IATEFL before I go:

Fluency/accuracy dichotomy too simplistic: also need fast/but form focused activities or focus on meaning/but slow – Jason Anderson#iatefl

Echos what we’ve just been talking about

“Seeing others notes before a debate makes you more willing to take part” – great session from Jason Anderson on fluency & accuracy #iatefl

Nice idea for debate preparation to combine into my Maggie lesson

Colin MacKenzie: thinking of creative professions primes us for creative thinking #tdsig #IATEFL

A little touchy feely for me but might just work, will give it a try. But we definitely need ways of promoting creative thinking (as well as critical thinking of course).

David Crystal at GISIG #iatefl: The two forces that drive language forward: identity and intelligibility.

I favourited a few of Jim’s tweets from David’s talk (although from what’s going on in the background on my computer I think the best bits must be at the end) but this is the most interesting. Lots of food for thought there in those 10 words. Speaking of which it’s dinner time.

My dinner is on the table

So I’ve tried to give you a flavour of my IATEFL day and I hope it’s been of some use for those of you like me who are far, far away from the magic on the Mersey. I haven’t seen the plenary, I haven’t explored the facebook page and my app has been hapless today, but I still got lots to think about and play with from the day and I hope you did too. Night!



I’ve never been to IATEFL…

6 04 2013

My 16-year-and-counting career has had its ups (I’ve just finished a fabulous intensive DELTA course and am about to write a synchronous online Delta Module One course) and downs (at the last count I’ve made about 26 trainees / students cry on my courses / in my classes) , highs (I’ve got the longest title in ELT – International House World Organisation Academic Coordinator for Resources and Director of Studies Support)and lows (I’m responsible for co-ordinating IHWO’s Live Online Workshops), ins (I’m a member of the Delta-and-Lancelot-qualified-and-working–in-South-America group of one) and outs (I’ve never slept with a fellow IH teacher)2, but in 15 years of EFLing I’ve never been to IATEFL.


This year’s conference kicks off tomorrow of course and I’m not going.  But, since various moons are colliding…

…I have a ‘slow’ week at work

I haven’t blogged much yet this year and need to get started up again

International House is 60 years young this year and we’re celebrating the fact at IATEFL

IH Buenos Aires has been doing CELTAs for five years now and I’d like to celebrate that fact with a bit of a social media push during my ‘slow week’ and therefore can persuade my boss that me spending my work day keeping up to date with IATEFL is good for business


I have a new smartphone…

My new phone

My new phone

I feel like I might be able to take an active part in the conference even though I’m 7000 miles away and four hours behind conference time.  How do I intend to do this?  Well I’ve downloaded the conference app to my phone, I’ve checked out the online support pages and forums and I’ve scanned the schedule and tried to fit it in with my own.  I’ve availed myself of the conference hashtag (#IATEFL), the conference Facebook page, cast an eye over the IATEFL registered blogs, signed myself up as one of them  and now I’m ready to roll.

The idea is to post a blog a day summarising my thoughts on my IATEFL interaction.  In order to do this I need to interact.  The plan is to…

…follow #IATEFL on twitter and retweet any interesting tweets with my own take on them (if space allows)

Following #IATEFL on tweetdeck

Following #IATEFL on tweetdeck

do much the same on the Facebook page

choose a different forum each day to read and post in



and then summarise this activity in a ‘what did I get out of / give to IATEFL today?’ type post.

IATEFL on A Muse Amuses

IATEFL on A Muse Amuses

Why don’t you do the same?  We can be in this together! Come and visit me each day and share your take on events.  Let’s catch up on twitter and Facebook and the conference forums and share ourselves.  We can’t go to the ball and the talks and have a coffee between them or a beer afterwards, but we can engage online and share and share and share alike.

And who knows?  Maybe as a result of our sharing, something wonderful might happen…

…a new idea for a lesson activity

The Game's Up!

The Game’s Up!

a further understanding of how our students learn English

One of my classes in IH Buenos Aires Recoleta ten years ago - has much changed?

One of my classes in IH Buenos Aires Recoleta ten years ago – has much changed?

a new friend in ELT world is made

ELT friends in Montevideo

ELT friends in Montevideo

old CELTA trainees get back in contact

Some of our lovely CELTA trainees at IH Buenos Aires Teacher Training

Some of our lovely CELTA trainees at IH Buenos Aires Teacher Training

new sources of information and knowledge are discovered

OTTI - best online resource I've ever discovered...

OTTI – best online resource I’ve ever discovered…

I get double figure visitors to my blog page

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 9.38.28 AM

someone invites us to talk at next year’s conference…

Macmillan Uruguay Conference 2012

Macmillan Uruguay Conference 2012

Whatever does happen, let’s hope I can at the very least keep to the blogpost a day pledge and that you enjoy the journey.  I’m going to IATEFL!

1 Just like to point out this is the author’s own opinion, not an academically researched fact. 
2 As I was writing this I actually honestly believed it was true.  While there was SPOILER 1 (fond memories), she wasn’t a teacher.  And then there was SPOILER 2 (further fond memories), but she wasn’t IH.  But then I was about three quarters of the way through writing the rest of the post when I did actually fabulously fondly remember SPOILER 3, and she was a teacher at IH, and so in the end this statement is not strictly speaking (or in any other manner of speaking) true.  But it amuses me so I’ll leave it in anyway and hopefully this footnote saves me from having actually knowledgeably lied on my blog for the first time. 

Reflecting on (the back end of) #RSCON3

3 08 2011

First of all I have problems knowing which section of my blog to post this in.  Should I put it in Printing Press, because hopefully it will be added to the great other reflections on the conference available at: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3mgat9s

Should I include it in Running Roads since I attended in place of going for a run, nursing my swollen foot while attending sessions on Assessment, Metacognitive Learning, The Future of Education and the fast, furious and fun Technological Smackdown?  And even though I didn’t run, the conference still left me flowing with thoughts like some fresh air and a lake normally do.

Or should I put it in Loving Language, since I haven’t got much in there yet and it was my love of language and teaching language which drew me to the conference in the first place.  In fact I could even put it in Singing Songs, since the conference ended in a lovefest of mutual appreciation and thanks for others blood, sweat and tears that almost inspired us to break into song (and there may still be some at the post-conference shindig next weekend).

In the end it doesn’t matter.  The conference could go anywhere and help anyone and be everything to everyone.  In fact I was never quite sure what it was trying to be and maybe it was that lack of trying combined with that determination to help, to share (Great sharing: http://preview.tinyurl.com/3utbagz), to inspire that made the conference such a success.

I could only attend the conference on Sunday, the last of the three days, but when the call went out earlier in the week for more moderators to help I was only too happy to oblige, it would make me feel more part of a conference which went far beyond EFL and I’d be able to put my experience with the Elluminate platform towards an excellent cause.  In the end I wasn’t needed, but it was nice to know they knew I cared.

As for content, I caught the end of the panel on assessment, which only made me wish I’d got up earlier and caught more of it.  And #CeciELT’s blog post on her views on the subject only augmented that view.  It was heartening to see broad agreement with my chatbox opinions – it’s not testing’s fault that testing is so discreet and objective.  We need to change the syllabus first and encourage our students to think more rather than just regurgitate facts and others’ opinions, then changing our modes of assessment will follow on more smoothly.

Technology smackdown was a lot of fun and gave me a list of websites to check out and see if they’ll help me help my students in future, or are worth passing on to colleagues.  The names I remember are:

Live binders – is it a portfolio online?

Todaysmeet – closed twitter tool

Posterous and Voice Menu – blog and voice recording?

Diigo – social bookmarking

Big think .com

Pic Lit


Zimmer twins



As always with this kind of thing, it’s what you do with it after the event itself that makes it all worthwhile – which is why I suggested ‘How are you going to follow up on RSCON3?’ as an #eltchat topic for this week, should be a good conversation come Wednesday evening.

Next up I kept one ear on Paula White’s keynote ‘Who directs the learning?’ while watching England run India ragged in the Second Test at Trent Bridge.  I’m sorry, Paula, but you just couldn’t compete and we all know the students direct the learning anyway.

And then I chipped in quite a bit on the chat about Dave Dodgson’s session on error correction and writing feedback.  We share many ideas about correcting student’s work being a very different kettle of fish to giving them feedback on their work.  Although I was surprised to hear Dave not go beyond content as an area to feedback on (I’ve always been a big CROAT fan myself, but maybe that’s for a blogpost in itself, or an #RSCON4 session later in the year?).

Another keynote next – it was an excellent idea to switch from sessions to keynote and back again, the format never seemed to get tired (although it was tiring for some of the stalwart organisers, I think it was around now that @shellterrell took an unplanned nap).  Steve Hargadon, who seems to be a big boss at Elluminate and who donated all of the Elluminate rooms for the conference, kept me rapt while he discussed what a Teacher 2.0 is and outlined the increasing say we have in education, how bottom-up is becoming more the way forward thanks to the democratising effect of technology (at least that’s the way I remember it, perhaps I should refer back to tweets for a more accurate remembrance).

Then I was all geared up to help moderate Dr Timony’s session on Tacit Knowledge and Pre-cognitive Thought (= taking advantage of the self-preserving mind), but @ktenkely had all bases covered (or just didn’t see me slip through the virtual classroom door) and so I sat back and enjoyed the session and tweeted the highlights for posterity.  It was a very interactive session, in fact Dave seemed to be just chatting with some of his students most of the time, and I left interested, but without much of a direction to head in (and a craving for olives).

The conference’s final keynote was by @timbuckteeth who must be the owner of one of the best twitter handles I’ve ever come across, although it seems to have nothing to do with who he is – Steve Wheeler.  Now I went tweet crazy, as Steve said some very inspiring things, backed up with memorable visuals to enhance the effect, which more than anything helped kindle the confidence I need to continue with this blog – thanks Steve! Tweet highlights (in reverse chronological order of course) were:

When you retweet, you are not repeating; you are AMPLIFYING > better if you add your 2p worth after the retweet 🙂
Web 3.0 connects knowledge, Web X.0 connects intelligence > if we teach critical thinking!

Content curation a new role for teachers > Think he means getting our students to think critically about content met
Content isn’t king, it’s a tyrant.
Any teacher can be a global educator – become a blogger, however small your ideas – mine here http://bit.ly/mOCPrv
We can all be change agents – it’s not that hard. Opposition = impact
Education is about teaching students, not subjects – Truss
Hitting an easy target – regimented education systems

So no practical ideas there for the classroom but lots of interesting snippets and food for thought – an inspiring way to end.

All that was left was to say thank you to the organisers, the presenters, the (almost) moderators and most of all to the participants who made the conference such an enjoyable three days.  And then not win a prize in the raffle,  but not to worry, we can still win the big prize if you fill in the survey here before the weekend. Good luck!

Final thought for me personally coming out of the conference was another nugget of Steve’s – ‘When we share knowledge we don’t lose it, we gain it again’ or something to that effect.  Steve is a big fan of sharing your work and ideas with others for free and that we shouldn’t make a currency out of knowledge – and so am I!

See you all at #RSCON4!