IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Post-talk reflections

 Conference, Teacher Development  Comments Off on IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Post-talk reflections
Apr 212016
 

‘Why write?’ was one of the questions I asked in my talk. This blog post could be titled ‘Why present?’ ‘It’s a very rewarding experience,’ I could say. But maybe we always say this when things have gone well… It’s not a very concrete or useful answer either, is it? So, here a bit more about what I think (or have heard) that went well, and what would make it (in my view) a more useful talk.

Nergiz Kern presenting

by Karen White, MaWSIG

But still, first: Why present?

It’s another way of sharing knowledge, sharing experience, it’s for teacher and career development, and all the other reasons which I listed when talking about ‘Why write’ (see the slides here). If you teach presentation skills, it also helps you appreciate what your students go through when they have to present (often in a language they are not proficient in yet).

So, it’s a good thing, which is probably why we (at least I) spent so much time preparing for it, and why we put ourselves in a situation that makes us feel nervous if we could simply be enjoying the conference…

The nerves

My talk was part of the MaWSIG Day (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) on the Friday of the conference. In fact, mine was the first talk. Fortunately, I had had the change to meet many of the attendees before, which helped immensely with being less nervous. Generally, all the attendees, when I looked at them, looked interested and nodded along, which again helped me to be relaxed throughout my talk.

The technology

There was also a person responsible for the technology, Richard, who connected my laptop to the projector and set my Keynote slides to presenter mode, who helped me with the microphone and the clicker they provided. He said he’d be ‘up there’ in the technical room (or whatever it is called) overseeing everything and I could call him if needed. I told Richard that his presence was very important to me (and the success of many other talks I’m sure) – one less thing to worry about!

The timing!

Last year at IATEFL, I attended many talks. In none of them, except maybe one, was there any or enough time for questions, which I believe are a very crucial part of a successful and rewarding presentation experience for both the presenter and the audience. Those presenters who had an exhibition stand could say – and they did – ‘If you have any (more) questions, I’ll be at the stand.’ But how about those that didn’t have this possibility?!

So, I said to myself, should I give a talk, I’ll make sure I’ll leave ten minutes for questions and comments. Twenty minutes should be long enough to get your point across. A successful talk was, in my view, not just one person who speaks to many, but should have space for interaction between the attendees and between them and the presenter.

Well, it didn’t quite work out as originally thought, and I knew it. I simply had too much to say and I agonised over where to cut the talk but couldn’t get myself doing it, except for one or two slides and minutes. I did finish exactly within the 30 minutes allocated to me and I did give the audience time to interact with each other, but there was no time for feedback and questions. And I did have to say in the end ‘You are welcome to come to the stand to ask questions or talk to me.’

I had planned four questions when I wanted the attendees to discuss them first before I presented my ideas, but I would have loved to give them more time to do this and also have time to get feedback, which I only managed ones. I know from being a participant myself that one minute for a discussion is not enough and one is asked to stop just when it gets interesting. Also, I would have loved to hear what they had to say and add to my own ideas. The one person whose feedback to the question ‘Why write?’ we managed to hear was ‘One important reason for writing is missing on your slide: for the LOVE of it!’ This to me was such a great addition to my ideas. And I’m sure, had we had time, we’d have heard more great contributions, particularly as my audience was about half experienced authors (some of whom had already published books) and half ‘inexperienced’, who were there because they wanted to start writing. There were also editors of magazines, as I would later find out.

Anticipating that there wouldn’t be sufficient time for interaction, feedback, and questions, I had prepared a Google document with the questions and shared it with the audience at the beginning, but nobody added anything to it. This could be because they couldn’t access it this quickly, they didn’t want to contribute in writing, there was simply no time to write anything there and follow the talk.

What’s the solution then? To cut the talk? Maybe often it is. With my talk, I think the solution would have been to have submitted it as a workshop rather than talk, which would have given us 15 more minutes for discussions, questions, and comments and would have made it a real learning experience for all sides.

The rewarding bits

I actually enjoyed standing there and presenting to my audience and felt much less nervous than I thought I might be.

After the talk, some people told  me they liked the talk and it motivated them, some did asked questions. Some even came to the stand to talk about my presentation.

Very unexpectedly, two editors, who were in the audience, said it was a lovely talk and whether I’d like to write it up for their publication! So, one suggestion I could add to my slide on ‘How to start writing’ is: give a presentation and then write it up for a blog post or an article!

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Planning

 Conference, Teacher Development  Comments Off on IATEFL Birmingham 2016: Planning
Apr 012016
 

Soon it’s IATEFL Conference time again. This year will be my second time there, after following it online or a couple of years. It’s going to be a special one as it is the 50th anniversary of the IATEFL Conference.

Last year, I attended the conference in Manchester, where they ‘caught’ me and my colleague when saying hi to other attendees who we’d worked with previously.

Like last year, I’ll be there again in different roles: as a teacher, as a freelance editor and materials developer/writer, and as a team member of English360.

I don’t like big gatherings and find it very exhausting, but at the same time, I really enjoyed meeting some people face-to-face who I had known online for many years. It also is a very intensive week of professional development. I particular found the MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) PCE (Pre Conference Event) very useful and it’s the one I look most forward to this year.

This year, I’m also going to give a talk myself on ‘How to start writing for publication: a teacher’s personal journey’, which will take place on Friday, 15 April at 10.25 in Hall 9.

To make the most of the conference, I’ve been reading through the programme and trying to choose the talks and workshops on topics that I’m most interested in, but I’m finding this very difficult, because in my different roles, I’m interested in many different things from EAP/ESP to technology, to writing materials. And there is hardly a talk that I want to attend that doesn’t collide with another one that I’d also like to hear, as there are so many presentations that take place in parallel.

What helps a bit is that some sessions are recorded, so I can watch these at home after the conference. IATEFL Online is a fantastic resource for during the conference, particularly for those who cannot be at the conference, and after the conference to catch up on what one has missed. Online participants can also participate in online discussions and can even blog about the sessions they ‘attended’.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 17.14.20

 

 

 

Images take a central stage

 ESP&EdTech, Materials Writing  Comments Off on Images take a central stage
Apr 212015
 

There seems to be a growing interest in images in coursebooks. Several sessions at the IATEFL conference in Manchester focused on this topic.

I attended two:

  1. Maximising the image in materials design by Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones (MAWSIG PCE Day)
  2. Can a picture tell a thousand words? by Hugh Dellar

The main message for me in both sessions was that in the past images in coursebooks were mostly used for decorative purposes, but today, they are often more central to the unit (Ben and Ceri), in fact, sometimes even the driving force for a whole page or eve double page (Hugh Dellar). Having trained as a photographer and having worked with images a lot, I was happy to hear this.

Hugh Dellar listed the following functions that images can have in coursebook:

  • to illustrate the meaning of lexis > limited, often nouns and actions BUT these are often not problematic to sts, – these don’t help sts speak
  • to test sts have remembered lexis
  • to serve as decoration
  • to act as prompts for grammar drills / practice > peculiar use of English (he is cooking)
  • to check receptive understanding
  • to set the scene for role plays
  • to generate language and ideas
  • to generate discussion, opinions, stories, etc

He suggested that the last three are the more interesting uses.

I would say that all uses, including decorative uses of images are good if the images are chosen well and don’t confuse the learners. But I agree that images can and should sometimes have a more central role.

Due to my personal interest in images, I have often based a whole lesson around them, sometimes around a single image. Not only do learners often feel engaged by images if they are well-chosen and meaningful, but as their isn’t much or any text, a lot of language emerges from the learners.

I’d like to give one example of an image and how I used it for a lesson. This is just one example, and in this case, it was I who chose the image as I felt strongly about it. However, I also knew my students and their interests well and knew they would have a lot to say about the image. Of course, learners can be asked to bring their own images to the class and possibly even create their own questions and task around them, or simply talk about them.

In this case, the image was that of a new church that was being built in my city then, but not many people knew about it yet, and this was crucial as otherwise the activities I had planned wouldn’t have worked. It’s also important that it has got some relevance to the students. In this case it was an image of a local building in a newly developed area. Also crucial when choosing an image is that it shows something controversial or something that would trigger highly emotional reactions. The architecture of the church was extremely unusual and it was planned as an ecumenical church, another hot topic for many.

Here are two images of the church — the one I used was black&white and there was no green park and no glass windows.

Maria-Magdalena-Kirche im Rieselfeld

Maria-Magdalena-Kirche im Rieselfeld

I had several students who were taking general speaking classes and liked talking about different topics of interest. I don’t remember the complete lesson plan, but I started by showing the students the image which I had cut out from a local newspaper and asking the students questions about the building:

  •  What kind of building do you think is this? (Answers varied from museum to prison to bunker; none said church).
  • When do you think was it build?
  • Where do you think is it located?
  • Which adjectives would you use to describe it?
  • How does it make you feel?

Once they new what it was, I had prepared more questions:

  • Do you think it was designed by a male or female architect? Why
  • Would you want to visit / attend mass in this church? Why/Why not?
  • If you had the chance to talk to the architect, what would you tell them?
  • What would you change about the church so you’d like it more?

I had more questions ready which gave the students the opportunity to produce and practice different grammar, vocabulary and skills.However, I didn’t always go through my list of questions with the students. Sometimes, they wanted to talk more about one question or aspect of the church or the controversy, etc. A student who was a regular worshipper was interested in different questions or aspect than one who was more interested in architecture, for example. Sometimes, a student would take over and make it completely their own lesson, talking about things I hadn’t thought about.

I used the image mainly in general English speaking lessons, but it can easily be used for practising other skills. The students could, for example, be asked to write a letter to the mayor, the architect, or the newspaper to state their opinion, etc.It could also be used in ESP classes with a different set of questions.

The lessons with this particular image were always interesting for the students and for me; the discussions were never the same and I always learned something new from my students too.

This is only one example of a lesson based around an image. It could have been done entirely differently. What also works well is image comparisons with multiple images. Another “classic” image activity: The teacher brings some personal images and tells stories about them; then, the students are asked to do the same in the next lesson. I’m sure you know many more. I’d be happy to hear about your favourite image activity.

Can such lessons flop? They certainly can. There’s a lot that can go wrong when images are used, which might be worth another blog post…