From action research to upgraded grammar classes, from using TV programmes to inspiring teenagers, English UK's Teachers' Conference was full of practical ideas to take back to classrooms and continuing professional development sessions.
There was plenty of theoretical food for thought as well, with sessions including Russ Mayne's look at pseudo-science in ELT, which took a critical look at ideas such as learning styles and neuro-linguistic programming.
Underpinning the day was an emphasis on practical CPD, with sessions outlining the first year of the English UK/Cambridge English Language Assessment Action Research Project and naming a delighted Judith Watkins of Sheffield College as the overall winner.
At least one delegate had come primarily to hear about the research. Jake Castaldi, academic manager of English in Margate, said: "It's my first time here and I was mainly interested in listening to the Action Research presentations as I am doing my Delta and my project is setting up a scheme, and I wanted to talk to people who were experienced with it."
Most of the 220 delegates had more general reasons for attending the annual event in London, with its two plenary and 30 elective sessions. Marianna Sherriff of Oxford Brookes University said: "I was thinking about my CPD. I wanted to challenge myself and learn something new. There have been some really brilliant moments - I liked Jim Scrivener talking about high demand grammar lessons. It was to the point and he showed how you could make changes. It's a good chance to meet people who are more knowledgeable."
Francine Rackham of Leeds English Language School was clutching the bottle of champagne she won in the free raffle organised by conference sponsor Trinity College. "It was a fantastic day - and not just because I won the champagne," she said. "It was awesome, and very informative. You get a bit jaded and it peps you up a little bit to hear what other people are doing. I'm hoping to come back next year. It's been inspirational." Francine and her five-strong group were, like many others at the event, planning to cascade what they had learned during the day to colleagues.
Taghrid Ahmed of British Study Centres in Oxford was also delighted with a "fun, informative" day and particularly an elective session on creative activities. "How to work with no materials - that's something I personally need to work on and there were good ideas there," she said. And Debra Winters of EC in Brighton was pleasantly surprised by the day. "It's my first time. I was a bit disgruntled about giving up a Saturday but now I'm quite happy about it."
English UK's Deputy Chief Executive Huan Japes said delegates had seemed very happy with the day and the variety of elective sessions on offer. "Some schools sent five or six people so that they could cover lots of what was happening and feed it back, and they liked the focus on teacher development issues. Jim Scrivener's opening plenary on grammar was very solid and interesting , and Silvana Richardson's closing talk on Action Research and CPD, with the idea of supported experimentation was also really useful and practical for people. A lot of what we had today was for teachers to take charge of their CPD, and I think there's a lot of interest in that."
The many sessions included Jason Anderson discussing how to adapt TV and radio game show formats for the classroom, including recreating Dragons' Den in small three-team groups, which take turns in outlining their idea and asking questions. Teachers should ask themselves questions about adaptivity, ease of explaining the game concept, whether it involves communicative interaction between learners, what areas of language could be exploited, how to maximise speaking opportunities, he said. Joseph Rynhart suggested that filming short improvisations, or devising short dramas, or film trailers for a particular genre, were all useful for the language classroom.
Emina Tuzovic, currently doing a PhD on Arabic learners of English, had interesting suggestions on how to tackle common spelling problems with this group of students. "I bet most of you with experience of teaching Arabic learners - how many times do you come across a sentence or text full of very odd spelling mistakes? Many of us come across this problem," she said, adding that for students on EAP programmes this could be particularly difficult as they typically spent little time on spelling, that their confidence could be knocked by this, and that other world universities typically had less emphasis on reading and writing.
Russell Mayne, in a session on "pseudo-science" said that there no research evidence supporting the use of certain learning techniques and that while some people asked what the harm was in using them, he said: "it's a waste of resources, a waste of the learner's time, the teacher's time to learn about things when they don't work... and it's pigeonholing students. It's about professional credibility. If we want to be taken seriously, we should do things seriously."
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