Conferences, Workshops and Swapshops – PD in Focus 1

(from bottom left) Tyson Seburn, Steve Muir, Fiona Mauchline, Eva Buyuksimkesyan and myself at TESOL France
(from bottom left) Tyson Seburn, Steve Muir, Fiona Mauchline, Eva Buyuksimkesyan and myself at TESOL France

After last Sunday’s webinar for BELTA Belgium, I have decided to start a series of posts, each one focusing on every point raised in my presentation, both for novice teachers and experienced ones. As I mentioned in the webinar, a good teacher is a constant learner – so regardless of the years one has been teaching, Professional Development should always have a pivotal role.

Let’s start with the first point – which is also one of my favourites: conferences, workshops and swapshops, the latter being a new kind of event and one that I find very interesting.

  • First of all, it helps tremendously to know which events we will attend and where. As we are all educators and work hard to earn our income, it is crucial to plan our events based on our budget. There are so many things going on, either at our own local level or internationally. An easy and practical way to find out where various conferences are going on is to look at Tyson Seburn‘s amazing ELT Calendar on his blog.

Second, it also helps to be a member of an association as we can get a lot of perks, such as free attendance to events, or at a discount (even the magazine or newsletter, electronic or paper). It is impossible to be members of all the associations we would like to, but nowadays most of them are affordable and allow us to register for multiple ones.

Now, on to the whywhy should we attend all these events? Don’t we already have enough to do, besides teaching, marking, preparing?

  • These events serve as a boost, a nice charge-up of our skills, ideas and motivation! A lot of educators including myself feel fully charged after a conference or workshop. You are just ready and looking forward to using the ideas you got in our own classroom, changing your methods, experimenting to see how the students will respond. Sometimes it might be the case that these ideas don’t work, but at least you have tried something different.
  • Suggest ideas! A lot of sessions, or workshops, are highly interactive – the speakers include the audience as well.So that way you can come forward and mention an idea you have used in your own classroom, or how you would use the idea you just heard from the speaker. Instant feedback. (I just love these sessions where everyone can take part!)
  • Conferences are not only the sessions themselves. Breaks are amazing opportunities to meet new people or come together with people you already know and talk with them, share your own experiences and compare your contexts, share ideas you got if you have attended different sessions. Networking, as it is called. Some of the best discussions I remember having have been during lunch or coffee breaks.
  • You can listen to great speakers from all around the world. How great is that? : )
  • Present! It might seem intimidating (and I am definitely far from being an experienced speaker) but it is a great experience. It is a great opportunity to share your ideas with others and do something new.

Swapshops: They are a relatively new kind of event. What happens there is that everyone can present an idea of their own – a lesson plan, idea, technique that they see has worked for their classrooms and would like to exchange with the other teachers. Usually it is a timed presentation 7-8 minutes, or more. It is so interesting! I love how everyone participates and the enthusiasm is contagious! You can leave a swapshop with a lot of ideas.

Any other reasons you consider conferences and events as a great way of developing professionally? Feel free to add a comment.

Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.
Presenting at the ETAS AGM and Convention, 2011.
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IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium 2012 – Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English (Updated)

IATEFL BESIG (Image taken from http://www.besig.org)
I am a bit late with this post, but have finally gotten round to posting my slides and the text (the updated version) from my workshop at IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium, which took place in Paris, on June 16th, in collaboration with TESOL France. I really enjoyed all the sessions I attended and will definitely be going to other BESIG events as well, as this was my first one and I loved it!

Here are the slides and some explanatory notes:

Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English 

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here.

What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.
 
The idea I will present to you today was not planned in a lesson; it was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, sure-let’s-use-this-and-see-what-happens decision.

I was reading the newspaper one day two years ago and saw the lines it was going to be a staycation. That last word totally hit me. I thought, great and I immediately looked it up to see if it was a recent addition to the dictionaries. It was, indeed, and I specifically found it on the online Macmillan Dictionary under the category buzzwords.  I immediately thought of telling the bankers I teach the next morning. I still teach them and they love learning new things! So, I presented the word to them and they were absolutely thrilled! The discussion that ensued and the language that was produced were phenomenal. They were talking about vacations and staycations – amazingly low TTT (teacher talking time), with me just popping in occasionally to make corrections or contribute. Anything else I had planned for the rest of the lesson was not used, but it was one of the best lessons ever. …AND THEN….

“Can I bring you one of these every week?” I said. They loved the idea!

But, I did change a few things:

● I did not present the word in a here-you-are-this-is-the-word way, like I did the first time. What I did the second time and all the times after that was this (and I would like to try a few with you):

daycation (simple): give me another word for holiday – lasting one day
Googleheimer’s (complex) : Think of the most popular search engine. Do you know of an illness where people have trouble remembering? Have you ever thought of Googling something and until you have reached the search box on the Google homepage you have forgotten what it was? What is the name of this new illness of the 21st century?
threequel (advanced) Do you like movies like the Matrix? First, they learn the word sequel – so what is the third one called, film number three?

What I do with these words is at the end of each month, I add them to a simple Word document – at the end of the month, they get the updated list with the definitions in English. I am thinking of having them contribute the definitions at the end of each month!

Some educators ask me (and they are right in a way), what do they need these words for? We don’t even know them and we are their teachers! How do they help our students?

Conclusions:– I don’t know some of them either. As a vocabulary fan I love learning new words!
– I don’t care if they don’t remember them afterwards (the interesting thing is that they remember a lot of them)
– It is what happens as they are trying to FIND the word of the week:
1. They learn words like sequel to a movie
2. and AFTER they have found it! The language production that goes on is unbelievable! I truly wish I could show you what is happening in our classes. They go on for ten minutes, half an hour, the whole lesson!

I help them with their vocabulary (I write a lot on the board) and their accuracy in grammar.

I am not here to tell you that I am a great teacher. I am here to tell you what my students, your students, OUR students can do with a simple thing! Just one or two words!

What we do with the Word of the Week:

Conversation: most of my Business English students have lessons to enhance their speaking skills, so this helps them a lot – that is what they want and they find it interesting, so they start talking without even thinking twice

– They can write a short paragraph or story in pairs or small groups, using say 5 words of the week – you cannot imagine what they come up with!

This is a goodbye card my students (IT specialists in a bank) wrote me when our course ended – full of Words of the Week!

– They actually FIND some of them in everyday life. A student of mine, from the group of bankers I mentioned at the beginning, called Werner, went to London on holiday and when he came back, he told me: “You won’t believe it! I was in London and I saw the word netiquette in a newspaper headline. I could explain it to my friends!” I see them everywhere as well. Lately, I have seen the word slacktivist numerous times, in newspapers, on TV, everywhere.
– They go back to their offices after their lessons and tell their colleagues who are not in our classes about the new words they learn.
 
They NEED to move with the times. Languages are living organisms, they breathe, they grow, they branch out. It is humanly impossible for them to remember all of those words/expressions, but even if they get 10 in the end, it is success. It also helps them decipher other words they find in the future. I have noticed that they do this now with many words. They are more independent now in deciphering the meaning of a word.
The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable!
This is our absolute favourite.

• Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken the idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case.  Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.

• If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.

• I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.

There are literally hundreds of ideas to use when teaching Business English and I have shared only but a few – enjoy your lessons!

The slides:

And those of us who were first-time speakers for BESIG were up for an award – I got third place! I was so happy to be presented the award by one of my favourite linguists, Professor David Crystal. Many thanks to Mike Hogan for the photos!

Professor Crystal, the judges and the award winners (Photo taken by Mike Hogan)
Getting my award from Professor Crystal – a double happy moment! (Photo taken by Mike Hogan)

My Last Lesson – Guest Post by Phil Wade (@phil3wade)

Phil Wade, EFL educator and blogger (Image by Phil Wade)
It is a great honour to introduce my new guest blogger, Phil Wade, a great educator and very prolific blogger. You can see all his posts and work on his blog, EFL Thoughts and Reflections.

Thank you so much, Phil!

I seem to be stuck in an endless circle with full courses in that the first few lessons/weeks involve getting to grips with the course and the students. Then it’s mid-term and there’s often some kind of test and just a few weeks later everyone is stressed about the final one and then…it’s the last class. Job done, time for a holiday and to think about next term.
 
I only really feel like I’ve got to grips half way or even towards the end of the course. There is the usual ‘trial and error’ phase or classes where I tried different approaches, some work some fail. I’ve always been one for adapting lessons to individual classes, I don’t believe in ‘one size fits all’, never have and, well, probably never will. Yes, I hear you say, it does mean more work and effort, stress too but that’s me and many of my PLN are the same. I know countless teachers who just ‘do the course’ with no differentiation at all and every year is the same. Not for me.
 
However, after teaching the same courses, age groups and with the same materials, in theory I can hit the ground running in the first week. Many years ago I had this situation and I had the courses down to an art form and was super slick, I even knew every page of the books. Yet, it was dull and pointless as I was just delivering something to people, not students. They could have been mannequins actually.
 
Now that I’ve finished another term I’m in the war room developing a new plan of attack for the next battle. Ideally, I need to think about what worked well and figure out why so I can emulate it but it also must allow space for adaptation.
 
The other things that I’m prepared for are all the ‘last minute surprises’ from the admin people. Next time the “you need to mark 50 reports in 3 days” won’t give me a heart attack like last time. I’m also aware that deadlines are not real deadlines and I’m prepared to say “I don’t have time”. This is how it seems to be done so I’ll just do as the locals.
 
As my students recently got their grades though there may yet be trouble in store. There is always at least one student who questions their grade and support from your boss varies from place to place. What I don’t like is when you get no guidelines or comments about your grades but then if someone complains suddenly you’ve done something wrong. This period is perhaps the calm before the storm and there may be one or they might not. Perhaps it’s a good time to go abroad for a long holiday. ‘Til next term I bid you adieu!
 
 

A Super Year!

I hope this has been a great year for all of you!

2011 has been for the main part a great year for me – I would like to say thank you to all of you for making it so special! I have felt so inspired this year, be it from working with great people and students, participating in conferences, online chats on Twitter (such as ELTChat and finnedchat) with amazing educators from around the world from whom I have learnt and who have challenged my thinking, interviewing some and being interviewed as well, meeting some for the first time and seeing old friends, writing blog posts, taking part in fantastic projects like the iTDi project!

May 2012 be great as well, full of health and happiness for all of us. 

I wish everybody Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! All the best!

TESOL France 30th Colloquium – Day Three (#TESOLFr)

And after two fantastic days of learning and connecting, the third day arrived which was equally super! There was only one difference though…we were all feeling sad at the end of it, because we would have to end a great conference and say goodbye to very good friends.

Willy Cardoso

The third day started off with a session by Willy Cardoso, Classroom Management – Who’s (Really) in Charge? It was the first time I had attended a talk by Willy. I am a big fan of his blog, Authentic Teaching – if you have not read his posts, I would highly recommend them!

I absolutely loved Willy’s talk. He shared his personal experiences in class with his students in London – Willy told us of how he gave his students ownership of the lessons. They felt comfortable enough to ask him to do something particular they liked in the next lesson and it worked – Willy had the greatest of lessons with them! They were still learning. He also spoke of seating arrangements that he changes all the time according to what he wants to do with students in class. I wish I could have seen one of Willy’s lessons!

Simon Greenall

After that, I had the privilege of attending the talk of a person I have admired for years for his work, and have had the good luck of meeting personally – and is a fantastic person as well – Simon Greenall! Simon talked about a subject very close to my heart, that of culture and diversity, which I have mentioned many times in the past as an integral part of my teaching. In his talk Mind the Gap: Designing Materials and Activities for Intercultural Training, Simon spoke to us about how he has integrated culture in his books and materials – the sensitivity we should have towards people of various cultures in our teaching, in order to pass this on to our students and show them that these cultural differences are important, in order to bring tolerance in our classes.

Arjana Blazič

Another one of my favourite people on Twitter was up next – Arjana Blazič and her workshop Testing, testing, 1 , 2, 3! Arjana is a multi-awarded educator from Croatia with two blogs: her own and one she has organised with her IT specialist at school to help students in their Matura exams.

Arjana, who integrates technology extensively in her classes, introduced us to a multitude of web tools in order to help our students with quizzes and online testing. The great thing was that on these websites teachers and students can be very flexible and create quizzes of their own. Arjana did a great job of pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of these web tools, which ones we could use free of charge and which we have paid versions of. You can see her presentation and all the slides including all the web tools on her blog.

Geoff Tranter

The conference closed with a fantastic plenary by Geoff Tranter, called That’s a Funny way to Learn a Language! Geoff has an amazing sense of humour (which he also showed us during the Open Mic night the evening before) and demonstrated how we can use it in class effectively – he showed us funny acronyms, riddles, funny signs and newspaper headlines we can use in our classes! I liked what Geoff said at one point: If your students are making humorous remarks in a foreign language, you have come a long way with them. I really enjoyed this closing plenary, as it was full of tips and also quite different.

After the conference, the BESIG weekly workshop, with Helen Strong this time, was broadcast in the amphitheatre – some watched it, some of us had to leave Paris unfortunately, and a great conference and very good friends behind.

As a closing treat to these three posts about the respective days of the TESOL France conference, I have some photos for you! I hope you enjoy them.

The Thevenin Amphitheatre filling up
With Sue Lyon-Jones and Sue Annan
With Ania Musielak
With Brad Patterson
With James Taylor
With Arjana Blazic
With Anna Loseva, in front of her poster presentation
With Elizabeth Anne
With Isil Boy
Mike Harrison, James Taylor, Sandy Millin and Sue Lyon-Jones before Ania Musielak’s presentation
A restaurant full of tweeters!

TESOL France 30th Colloquium – Day Two (#TESOLFr)

And after the excitement of Day One…Day Two came along for all of us to learn, connect and have fun!

Mike Harrison

I started my day with Mike Harrison’s super session Before Words: Ideas for Using Images and Sound in the Classroom. It was the first time I had attended Mike’s session and I loved it! I got so many ideas about what you can do with pictures and sound effects in class. We even did a visual poem. I teamed up with Deniz Atesok, a great educator from Turkey in the activities that Mike showed us and we came up with some great ideas! I will definitely be using his ideas with my students – and I will definitely be attending more of his sessions in the future. You can find a plethora of ideas on his great blog! A big thank you to Mike!

Anna Musielak

Right after Mike – the drama specialist and enthusiastic presenter (and very good friend – I am so happy to know her!) Anna Musielak! Ania’s presentation was called Break the Ice with Drama. I had seen Ania last year as well and I could not wait to attend her session this year either!

Ania presented so many ideas, you definitely have to catch her at a conference – her enthusiasm is amazing and so are her ideas, which work with all ages. We took part in many activities and could see in practice how great these ideas are. I loved how Ania’s ideas made everyone so enthusiastic, lots of people volunteered to take part in the activities. Lots and lots of ideas. Ania is also star guest blogger on many blogs, including mine. Her posts are definitely worth reading! Thanks so much, Ania!

Cecilia Lemos

After our lunch break, it was time to see Cecilia Lemos in action in her session, Ideas for Improving Studentsʼ Writing Skills: My Experience. Ceci gave us amazing ideas of how to integrate writing actively in our classes – a skill that has been often disliked by students for the reason that (we have all heard it and Ceci pointed it out as well) they have nothing to write. She introduced us to some nice tips for writing, such as motivating the students into writing the essay paragraph by paragraph wothout even realising it, and then putting them all together to make their very own writing piece – and prove to themselves that they can write! I also like how Ceci told us how she motivates her kids to read – they all read the same book, which she has chosen carefully to be apporopriate for all tastes and for both genders. She has also done a webinar on the same topic which you can see, along with other super posts, on her blog.

Luke Meddings

Right after, it was time for the one and only Luke Meddings and his plenary Dogme and the City.

I really liked how Luke paralleled language learning and teaching and exploring the city of Paris. It was a really great pleasure to listen to Luke and talk to him afterwards – we also enjoyed his Greta Garbo impersonation!

Thanks for a great plenary, Luke! Truly enlightening and I look forward to attending more talks from Luke in the future.

 

Marisa Constantinidis

Then it was time for Marisa Constantinidis – her session was The Reading Challenge: Motivation & creativity in reading lessons. Lots of educators heistate to use reading texts in their classes because they think the students may get bored. Marisa showed us so many ways to utilise texts in class successfuly, and get lots of things from them! She weaved reading texts into so many activities and extended them to speaking as well. I loved Marisa’s ways of motivating students to read – it counts to a great extent on how teachers present a reading text for the students to approach it! A great presentation form a wonderful person and educator! Read Marisa’s excellent blog  for more great ideas – I am giving a link to her very imimportant challenge for people with disabilities, which she pointed out in Paris as well and I believe is a very important issue for all educators to keep in mind.

Ceri Jones

Right after Marisa, the last session of the day I attended was Ceri Jones’s, You’ve Got Mail. She gave us very interesting ideas on how to use e-mail in class, as a means of communication with our students (letting them know what has happened in case of absence, for instance, but also as an exchange of language between the teacher and students). Ceri and her students did an excellent job in extending their linguistic abiltites and improving significantly in writing – something I found very interesting, as I communicate a lot with my students via e-mail, almost on a daily basis. I am definitely taking a lot of ideas from Ceri’s session! Read her super blog Close Up – great work there!

Then we had the Open Mic Night, which was a huge success and so much fun! Lots of singing, juggling, poetry reading – you name it : )

TESOL France 30th Colloquium – Day One (#TESOLFr)

Last year was the first time I attended TESOL France – it was a huge success from many aspects. First of all, the plenaries, workshops and talks were all fantastic and I learned so much. I met a lot of people I had only been interacting with online on Twitter and learned what the face-to-face meetings are really like: a lot of squealing, hugging and “Oh wow! It´s really you!!!!” among ourselves.

Beth Cagnol, TESOL France President (aka Wonderwoman!)

This year, I decided to do the same (well, actually, I had already decided after last year´s colloquium was finished!). I arrived in Paris last Thursday, on a rainy day…but I was so happy to be in Paris! I was positive that Beth Cagnol, the President of TESOL France and a wonderful person and educator, and her great team would prepare three great days for all of us who decided to attend. Which was exactly how things went! Beth opened the conference with a very emotional speech – I think we all had a lump in our throat just listening to her speak. Everyone at TESOL France made us feel so good there and enjoy a fantastic conference! This year I felt like I was returning to a very familiar place where I feel very welcome. Mille merci to everyone at TESOL France!

DAY ONE

Stephen Brewer, Plenary Speaker

On Friday we had the chance to listen to Stephen Brewer´s plenary on  It was the first time I was attending Stephen´s talk – Beth told us a lot of great things that Stephen has done in his career before he started his talk.

I especially liked what Stephen said about language being like music (as he is an amazing pianist himself) – for instance, that in language, as in music, we always have doubts as to how skilled we are, even if we are good at it.

What I also liked were the notions of human agency that Stephen mentioned – the great ability to exercise intentional influence and make choices. Then the inner game came into play – checking http://www.theinnergame.com, I found this definition:

What is The Inner Game?
“There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure.” -Tim Gallwey
FRIDAY SESSION
Dale Coulter

After Stephen’s plenary, I decided to attend Dale Coulter‘s session and was I ever happy to attend that one! Dale’s talk was Reflective Teacher Practice for Newly Qualified Teachers  – he told us so many things he does daily in his teaching and my aha! moment was when he said he keeps a journal, a normal pencil-and-paper journal. As I told hm after his talk (and I was very fortunate to discuss quite extensively with him), this is my 12th year teaching and I have never ever kept a journal! Dale reassured me it is never too late and I am going to use this idea, for the reason that I am always rather critical of myself when something goes wrong in lessons and I immediately dismiss my ideas. Dale said something amazing in his session: focus on the positive points and what went well and also on what you can improve. The best kind of reflection in my opinion! Read his blog here: http://languagemoments.wordpress.com for more ideas. Thanks so much for a great session, Dale!