Fast Forward from Iatefl Glasgow 2012

Where next? Past, Present, Future or all three together?

Fast Forward…From Glasgow back to everyday life

I’ve actually been back from Glasgow for almost a week now and as time passes your brain begins to put things into order, classifying the kaleidoscope of talks, ideas, peoples, impressions that whirled round you during what is definitely one of the highlights of my year.

All the conferences tend to have a sort of thread running through them to my mind. My thread for Harrogate 2010, for instance was stories, possibly because of the links between Harrogate and Agatha Christie, but also because that year there seemed to be a wealth of references to Whodunnit activities and stories, culminating in the incredible Jan Blake plenary which had us all in tears. No mean feat at a conference.

Connectivity and Relationships

This year, in Glasgow, there were two main themes for me. One was connectivity and relationships. As I wrote in my last post at the beginning of the conference, Adrian Underhill underlined how important relationships are in our world and how it is only really by stressing relationships, connecting with others and drawing on each other’s strengths that a group can be successful. The days of the charismatic leaders are numbered, it seems, although I can think of a few leaders who haven’t quite realised that yet.

This theme is in fact central to what I was talking about: social networking and professional developments because it is by relating to one another, and by connecting up that so many of us are developing our teaching by means of sites like Twitter and Facebook as well as so many others. Relationships, however, have always been important and this brings me on to my second theme: integrating the past into the present and going on into the future.

From the Present back to the Past and then on into the Future

We all tend to look for new things, and I am always insatiably curious, which is probably why I like technology so much, but it is also true that there is nothing new under the sun, and that we are basically reworking things that already exist in new ways. On the first day of the conference I managed to get one of the seats in Anthony Gaughan’s presentation: The Se7en Deadly Sins of ELT, where he claimed that he was not going to try to persuade us that he was right but that he was going to talk about seven techniques that have been banned or have almost disappeared from EFL classrooms, being frowned upon.

1) drilling;
2) translation/L1 use;
3) dictionary use;
4) teacher explanations;
5) reading aloud;
6) telling students they’re wrong;
7) teacher talk time.

Apart from the fact that I actually regularly do most of these things with the exception of reading aloud, which I do in drama activities, but otherwise tend to avoid, I must say that his talk was very convincing. Perhaps he was preaching to the converted, but it is worth repeating what seems to me to be the crucial point here:

It is not the technique, drilling, reading aloud etc. that is “wrong” but what you do with it, like so many techniques. If you spend your whole lesson translating texts and not doing much else (which does actually happen even now in some classrooms) then translation is something to be discouraged, or if the whole lesson is conducted in the students’ L1 rather than in English and English is only used for mechanical exercises then of course it is negative, but a constructive use of translation for critical analysis, and the use of the L1 to save lengthy contortions on the part of the teacher just to explain one “word” is simply a matter of common sense. The same is true of all these “sins”.

Blending the past and the present

It struck me forcibly however, that what was hailed as “new and good” not so many years ago, is now considered by many to be “old hat” and frowned upon, but a teacher’s box of tricks is surely a blending of everything together. In my teaching I would hope that I have taken a range of techniques such as drilling, mill drills etc. and combined them with other elements developing my own skills so that one thing grows out of another. What I mean for instance is that I might do a “mill drill” where student’s ask each other questions about what they are going to take with them on a holiday, for instance, and then they may plan the holiday with those items and finally write an email to a friend after the holiday talking about an episode that happened involving one of the things they took with them. This may then be posted on Linoit or some such noticeboard. In this way drilling becomes a task and is then developed using technology. In this way what we do today is the result of building on what we have done in the past.

So, that’s it for today, I think. Iatefl was, as ever, a great conference and I’m sure I’ll have more to say as my brain orders it all even more.

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