IATEFL Brighton 2018: Day 1


It is not uncommon for regular IATEFL conference goers to report of ‘Post Conference Blues’ after returning from their week of talks and workshops, discussions and debates, and connecting and bonding with old and new faces. Before you know it, the week flies by and you’re left with the nostalgia of the great conversations you had with the people who shared your passions and the regret of not having had the time to chat with certain colleagues or attend certain talks. Thankfully, IATEFL and the British Council have once again got together to film and stream some of the talks (including the plenaries) on IATEFL Online so that you can catch up in the comfort of your own home (although they can’t do very much about the chats that you missed).

And one of the unmissable talks that should definitely be caught up online if you’d missed it is Dorothy Zemach’s plenary ‘Sausage and the law: How coursebooks are made’. Making several pertinent points about the recent changes in the publishing industry, Dorothy addresses the way materials writers are paid, how publishers are attempting to manage their writing teams in a more cost-efficient manner, how coursebooks are increasingly being turned into a one-size-fits-all globalized product and how those without a background in education are making the important decisions about what goes in coursebooks. Whilst peppering her very-entertaining talk with a witty sense of humour, Dorothy’s message to teachers is an important one: If you use coursebooks, then let publishers know what you want and give them feedback on the coursebooks you use. And mostly importantly, pay for what you use. Don’t expect free PDFs and pirated copies of books you can’t afford because piracy is not a victimless crime and can lead to coursebooks becoming more expensive and writers being paid less. There are after all plenty of free material that is available online, e.g. by the British Council, for people who cannot afford to buy course materials.


The sky at IATEFL Brighton on that clear Wednesday

Another thought-provoking plenary this year was Brita Fernandez Schmidt’s ‘Knowledge is power: access to education for marginalized women’.  Starting her talk with a story about her encounter in Ethiopia with a 13-year-old, she moved the audience to tears and then inspired us to make a change to a world where ‘it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict’ (Former UN Peacekeeping Commander Major General Patrick Cammaert).  In her call to action, Brita urged us to all be agents of change. As teachers, we can choose the topics that we teach and use them to raise awareness and challenge the inequality women still experience in today’s world. Representing Women for Women International, Brita shows us examples of the difference that a sponsor can make and how women born into poverty can be educated, taught to be entrepreneurial and have power put back into their hands.


Zoltan Dornyei on motivation

For some of us, IATEFL can sometimes leave us a little star-struck. And judging by how the ‘celebrities’ of our industry like David Crystal and Michael Lewis are often mobbed by fans at the conference all asking for a photo opportunity, I’m guessing I’m not the only awe-struck commoner. For me, this year’s IATEFL star-struck moment had be seeing Zoltan Dornyei in person for the first time. Although I was familiar with his writing and many of his books occupy a prime position on my book shelves, I had not seen Zoltan Dornyei in person before, and was captivated by his soft voice and gentle demeanor as he broke the ice with his huge crowd with a lovely sense of humour in his talk ‘Safe Speaking Environments: What? Why? How? Speaking can be daunting and teachers can help to create a psychological environment that can make the students’ task of sticking their necks out in class easier. Emphasising the role of group dynamics in the quantity and quality of learning, Zoltan Dornyei goes through the different ways teachers can improve group cohesiveness e.g. by helping learners get to know one another, encouraging cooperation and incorporating opportunities for intergroup competitions.

Following the title of his talk, Dornyei then goes on to talk about the five principles of safe speaking environment: 1. Allowing adequate time & space for speaking; Automatisation takes time. 2. Immersing Learners in activities where speaking English almost feels incidental to the task e.g. good Communicative tasks. 3. Using student-selected topics for discussion to increase engagement e.g. personalised tasks that feel real and authentic, which have potent motivational qualities. 4. Having positive peer interaction 5. Providing appropriate feedback on learners’ speaking, i.e. feedback that isn’t intrusive and that doesn’t create a sense of being judged. Ultimately, good feedback offers useful resources rather than highlights errors.


Jess Andrews and Michael Turner on innovative CPD

CPD was another popular thread at this year’s IATEFL conference. In their talk  ‘Remote Control(led): a peer observation project for experienced teacher educators’, Jessica Andrews and Michael Turner, gave a fascinating and inspiring overview about their in-house CPD project that allowed for bottom-up teacher development by allowing teachers on-demand access to videos that allow them to observe their colleagues teach/train remotely. Interestingly, when participants were asked what type of sessions they’d like to watch, some of the hot topics included ‘helping students with literacy issues’, ‘dealing with emergent langauge’, ‘error correction’ and ‘phonology’.


Jo Sayers on struggle and the Learner Experience

In ‘Challenge vs Intuition in language learning’, Jo Sayers of ELT Jam looked at the difference between User Experience (UX) and Learner Experience (LX). While friction and struggle is often seen as the enemy of User Experience, challenge and effort is necessary in Learner Experience.  However, not all struggle is useful. Extraneous cognitive loads e.g. the struggle to use an elearning interface can cause unnecessary stress. On the other hand, working on a challenging task can offer us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction: we lose a sense of time, are completely focus, enjoy the activities and feel a sense of progress. We feel ‘in the flow’ of things. Instead of seeing struggle as something to be avoided, we can consider how we can help your students deal with struggle and optimise it so that they are enjoying the learning while making effective progress.


Enjoying the evening with some BESIG-ers

Another small achievement perhaps worthy of mention was the fact that my live conference tweets (via @etprofessional) did not go unnoticed: there were clearly some ‘tweeters’ who were not able to be at the conference following my tweets and engaging with them; and we were given a special mention for coming in as one of the top five twitter accounts for top tweets with the hashtag #IATEFL2018. After all that hard work, it’s probably time to celebrate. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…and don’t we conference goers know that?