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!

Apr 302015
 

Let’s say you have thought about your reasons to write, and you want to get started. But how do you start?

I guess the best scenario is that you already feel the urge to share something with a wider circle of people than your immediate environment (family, staffroom, local association), rather than “just” the wish to write without knowing what about.

But even if you know what you want to write about, it can feel like a daunting task if you’ve never written for the “public”. So, how do you start?

Writing for teacher development

In my case, I started by taking notes for myself in private. Writing needs practice and this is a “non-threatening” way of doing it as there is no public.

Then, I started taking notes on my lessons and sharing lessons plans publicly on my first professional blog about my experiences of teaching in the 3D virtual world Second Life. Blogging is a wonderful way of starting writing publicly. The posts can be short, they can be informal and personal. Some people like writing guest posts on other people’s blogs without committing themselves to their own; others might find it easier to write on their own as they can decide what the style will be, the length, the topics, etc. A third option is to write for blogs of publishing houses, online magazines, and similar.

The next, bigger step would be to write an article for submission to a magazine or journal. I would assume it’s easier to write for a professional magazine, as it doesn’t need to be academic, and they will accept shorter pieces as well. Many start by writing book reviews or submitting lesson plans and similar.
A great way of making this task easier is to write a series of blog posts on a topic and then combine these and rewrite for an article in a professional magazine. I did this with my blog posts about teaching in Second Life — my first published article in a print magazine!
I have also rewritten some of my MA assignments for publication, for example, my article on using podcasts in an English course for taxi drivers. Like with the blog post series, it makes the task easier because it’s already written. But it needs to be rewritten for a different audience, which can mean making it less academic or less formal, using fewer sources, shortening the text, adding new sections, removing others, etc.

For book chapters, you can do the same as for articles, but they might need to be more academic; therefore, it might be easier to rewrite dissertations rather than blog posts, because the former will already have references. In book chapters, they also often want some results, some kind of research with outcomes. In most cases, there will be a call for chapters to which you can submit your proposal and if they accept, you write the full chapter. For my first short book chapter, I have rewritten my MA assignment about the taxi driver course for a book on Blended Learning. You can compare it with the one for the magazine in the paragraph above to see how they are different (length, style, formality, images, etc.)
I have also written a longer book chapter completely from scratch based on an editorial brief about technology-integrated ESP lessons.  This has been the most challenging one for me so far.

The next step would be to write a complete (e)book, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon 😉 But I’ve edited quite a few written by others.

Although it might sound very daunting to write articles and book chapters, the great thing is that, in both cases, you will have editors who help you improve your draft, so you are not alone in the process.
Writing to share my experience has been a great experience for me. And when what you write is published in a magazine or book and people appreciate it, it feels like a great achievement and motivates me to do better work.

Writing course materials

Just like when writing for teacher development purposes, writing course materials was a gradual process for me and probably is more many. I can’t think of any example where a teacher who has never written anything would suddenly start writing a whole coursebook. Let me know if you know one 🙂

So, it usually goes something like this (which is how it has been for me):

  • write some extra exercises for your students
  • write extra activities to go with a coursebook unit
  • substitute some coursebook activities
  • write whole worksheets
  • substitute a whole coursebook unit with more relevant content and tasks
  • write a complete course or set of materials for your students with special needs (EAP, ESP, etc.)
  • share lesson plans, worksheets, or courses you have written publicly on your blog (SLexperiments), or a special course website (English for taxi drivers, English citiy planners)
  • write for someone else (a school, publisher, online lesson plan banks, etc.)

Writing course materials for others is still a very new experience for me  and so is the logical (?) next step: editing the work of other writers. But it’s exciting and I’m learning a lot in the process.

Where are you in your writing journey and where would you like to be?

Why I had stopped writing and why I started again

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on Why I had stopped writing and why I started again
Apr 302015
 

Like many others who have a blog, I have phases when I blog a lot and phases (months!) when I don’t. The last phase was quite long. One reason, as often, was that I’ve been working a lot. But to be honest, I could still have found time to write a blog post now and then. So, it was a bit lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, and having my focus elsewhere.

Now, I decided to get back to writing again — blog posts and articles —  for several reasons:

  • At the IATEFL conference in Manchester, a teacher from Russia said she had been reading my blog. I was chuffed and it made me want to write again.
  • At the same conference, Cleve Miller from english360.com and I were telling Gary Motteram from the University of Manchester about a project we’ve been working on, and Gary said that this sounded great, but that nobody was writing about their work. So, I thought it was time again to do this.
  • I’ve also been told by several teacher trainers and teachers (face to face, on Twitter, by email), that they like my article in the Blended Learning book or that it is popular with trainees. I was chuffed again and decided it was after all worth putting in these extra hours to write about the work I’ve been doing.
  • I’ve started thinking of the next pre-sessional EAP course and the things I might want to try out this year, or do better. So, I thought it would be good to first write down what I’ve done so far. Which leads to the next point…
  • Writing about my work also helps me reflect on my work, whether it’s a course I’ve written, technology I’ve used, or anything else I’ve done in the classroom. So, it’s good for teacher development.
  • And, of course, writing can be one way of developing one’s career.

So, as I have some downtime now and I feel that inspiration is coming back, I wanted to get started right away. My first steps:

  1. I made a list of topics that I’d like to blog about.
  2. I wrote my first blog post yesterday and am writing this one now 🙂
  3. I contacted the editor of a professional magazine and suggested an article, and she told me to go ahead and write it.

What are your reasons for writing (or not)?
How do you motivate yourself to write?

Read also: How to get started with writing

Is Blogging in ELT out?

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on Is Blogging in ELT out?
Mar 082013
 

A well-known teacher trainer in our field has recently commented that blogging in ELT might not be in anymore, that fewer teachers continue blogging.

I myself had had a rather long break from many of my online activities but particularly from blogging and Twitter. Doing an MA while working full-time and working on other non-teaching projects, I simply had no time left to keep up with everything in the (excessive) manner I had done before.

Twitter

I won’t go into details here why I almost entirely stopped using Twitter. There is a lot to be said about how Twitter can be used for a teacher’s own development and for language learning. Here, it shall suffice to say that I used Twitter extensively for two years or so and did find it enriching then. Now, it’s simply not a tool that meets my current needs. I believe that in different phases of our professional lives, we need different tools but that the choice of tools is also very much a personal choice. I might write more on this in a separate post.

Blogging

I started blogging in 2008. It was a personal blog but set up for the purpose of trying blogging for the first time to see how it worked and whether it was something that I wanted to use with students. After this initial experience, I’ve created several blogs, some personal but most for professional purposes.

My first professional blog was Teaching in Second Life. I started it to reflect on and share my experiences learning to teach in the 3D virtual world of Second Life. As it is a niche topic (still) in ELT, it has never drawn the masses and many comments  but, over the years, I’ve received many emails from teachers who have used the information for their MA or PhD dissertations. I rarely update it  because, 3D worlds are  not my focus at the moment. There is, however, still a lot going on in 3D worlds in terms of teaching and teacher training. So, occasionally, I will hopefully find the time to add new posts.

Another reason why I completely stopped blogging in the past one or two years is that I only had the Teaching in Second Life blog to write about my work and professional development. I had always wanted to create a “hub” (including a blog) for all my online activities, materials, and websites but simply didn’t have the time to set this up. Now, after finishing my MA, I’ve created this hub.

Is blogging out?

I don’t think that it is? I believe that among the many tools and activities that have emerged on the Internet, blogging is here to stay as one of the “staple” tools. However, just like with Twitter and many other tools, when they are new, many people want to try them out. Then, some stay with a tool and some move on.

There are also different types of bloggers. Some teachers set out to blog a certain number of times a week.They also try to keep up with reading other blogs and commenting on them regularly, as this is supposedly what blogging is mostly about.  However, for many, including me, as much as this might be desirable, it’s not sustainable. I guess it also depends on one’s purpose for blogging. In my case, I sometimes like to reflect publicly or share information or discuss ideas, but I don’t depend on “traffic”, though I’m always happy, of course, when visitors come.

Blogging and other types of writing

My Teaching in Second Life blog helped me a lot when I wrote my first published article Starting a Second Life. The article was basically a summary of my blog, and the posts, which I wrote immediately after my lessons in SL, helped me “remember” essential information. The article basically wrote itself.

However, with all the blog posts and micro-blogging I was doing (including following links on Twitter), I also sometimes thought that this kept me from writing articles or book chapters, simply because I didn’t have time for it all; and, at least in my case, I need to have long stretches of focused time to write longer academic pieces.

I guess, in my case at least, it’s a balancing act to, on the one hand, keep up with developments in the world and engage with the community and, on the other hand, to take a break and isolate myself a bit in order to reflect silently and write in different modes.

Hello again (online) world!

So, after a long break from most (not all) my online activities, I’m now planning to come back to it slowly, in a more measured pace, and with occasional breaks to retreat into my own world.