What does a man in a gorilla suit, practical advice on creative teaching, and tips on ways to turn a British Council inspection from an ordeal into an opportunity have in common? They were among the many highlights of the English UK Teachers' Conference, held in London at the weekend.
More than 270 teachers travelled from all corners of the UK for the conference, making it the largest yet. Each of the home countries were represented as well as the Morley's who had travelled over from Yanbu in Saudi Arabia for the event (and some sightseeing, no doubt). They all came to catch up on the latest developments, network with colleagues and, most importantly, pick up a few new ideas. And they weren't disappointed!
Sally Dix, of the Capital School of English in Bournemouth, said: "It's been interesting and informative, and it's given me a lot of good ideas to use in my own lessons. It's my first time here and I would come again."
Alan Bunton, from the Frances King School of English in London, a teacher for 13 years, was also enjoying his first time at the conference. "I liked the first speech, he (George Pickering) obviously had lots of experience doing that one, he was very confident and relaxed and I liked the topic of beginnings: it's not something you automatically think about.
"The session on the voice was good and I got a few tips, and the pronunciation session was good.
"I just wanted some professional development because I felt I might be stagnating. I've got my Delta but it's been awhile. And it gives me a chance to catch up with colleagues and a bit of gossip about how we're still skint."
Equally enthusiastic was Henry Tolley, UK and Ireland Regional Development Manager of conference partner, Cambridge ESOL. "It's really fantastic, the best one, and numbers have doubled in the last two years," he said.
Event organiser Mark Rendell, Deputy Chief Executive of English UK, said: "We're obviously doing something right because the number of teachers wanting to attend the event rose by 35% this year. We're hosting an incredible 320 people in total today and the event was sold out over a week ago.
"The fusion of well-known speakers with up and coming speakers is proving a popular formula and we are confident that we are able to maintain a high level of quality. Teachers attend the event to gain new ideas, to keep up to date and enjoy the networking opportunity and the top quality surroundings, outstanding catering and attention to detail all contribute to an enjoyable and unique learning experience."
The packed one-day programme began and ended with presentations designed to be of interest to all teachers, with the opportunity to attend three specialist seminars from a wide-ranging selection of 24 sessions including a British Council ESOL strand.
The star of the first presentation was the man in the gorilla suit, George Pickering, lead trainer on the English UK DELTM and Accreditation UK inspector. He opened the day with a talk on the importance of good beginnings.
"In my experience, some people come to conferences for wisdom: they want to know more about a specific matter such as using mobile technology. Others come for WICTOM: what I can teach on Monday. And some of you are here for HICDOM: how I can develop on Monday? I hope you get wisdom, WICTOM and HICTOM," he said.
There was, he said, a famous piece of research where people were asked to count the number of times a ball was passed between two teams in a film. At the end, they were asked whether they had seen anything special in the film. Most had not spotted the man in the gorilla suit, even when specifically asked. "It's very easy in our busy lives to be so focused on the task that we don't see opportunities and opportunities for change," said Mr Pickering.
Beginnings were really important in teaching. Research showed the beginning and end of lessons were remembered most – and so it could be helpful to break the lesson into smaller chunks.
Mr Pickering said it was important for a teacher to start by establishing rapport with the group – telling a joke or a story was good - and avoid barriers, either mental or physical. They should be clear about the aim of the lesson and keep that in sight. "Establish a positive state and make the room your own," he advised, doing just that when he distracted delegates with a task, enabling him to quietly change and wander through the hall in the gorilla suit.
An equally lively but gorilla-less plenary session saw Paris-based trainer Chaz Pugliese getting a very full hall to try out some of his innovative ideas for introducing creativity into the classroom. "Creativity matters to students. It matters to us all," he said. Good strategies were keeping things simple, and being prepared to take some risks.
Elective sessions covered a wide variety of subjects, from the extraordinary range of English language material available as smartphone apps and how they could be used in the classroom, through what to expect from an accreditation inspection, to how teaching simple and commonly-used openings and phrases could help learners.
Other sessions included advice on teacher voice care, motivating learners, and a look at the divide between ESOL and EFL.
Whether seasoned teachers, directors of study or those new to the classroom, delegates were finding the conference useful and fun. Andrew Benz of the Cambridge Academy of English was catching up with an old friend over lunch. He said: "It's the first time I've been to this particular conference. As a new assistant director of studies I thought I would try to come to as many as I can. The session on British Council inspections was good and the Cambridge exams one was very useful as things change all the time."
Nicky Ray, who teaches at the British Study Centres London said: "I tend to come most years. It's an opportunity to meet other teachers and have a chat about things, compare life in other schools and is also a chance to find out what other people are doing in their classrooms.
"Today I went to Pete Sharma's talk on mobile technology because it's really something you've got to expect – I use my own phone increasingly for work. I am now going to look into the apps he mentioned. And the inspection one – I've got to prepare teachers who haven't gone through inspection. I'm going to be talking them through it, so that was quite useful and I got ideas on how to present it."
Matthew Whitehead, who teaches at the Meridian School of English in Portsmouth, said: "It's my first teacher conference ever. I have only been teaching a couple of years and am hoping to do a Delta qualification and I wanted some extra input really. I have enjoyed it, particularly the IELTS seminar which I really wanted to attend. It was interesting."
For Teresa Brotherton from Coleg Glan Hafren in Cardiff it was her first time at the English UK conference though she had attended many others over a long teaching career including time in Africa and Asia. "I came here today to get a little bit of inspiration, find out more about the current climate round EFL. I think there's a lot of energy and enthusiasm and you need to attend these things to inspire you and motivate you a little bit. I have really enjoyed it.
"I’ve got 3 hours on the train to write a few pointers down. There are about 12 of us in the team and I need to do some feedback."
And Mark Lewis, director of studies at the Capital School of English, had brought along three members of staff. "I was here last year too and I've enjoyed it. I decided to come back and bring some colleagues. It's useful."
by Susan Young (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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