IATEFL – On Methodology

Brighton Night
Brighton by Night
I’ve just got back from the IATEFL conference, a huge sprawling monster of a conference. The best way that I can think of to reflect on what I’ve seen is to blog about it. The good thing is that loads of the conference is available online – where this is the case I’ll link to it. As it is so sprawling, I’ve had to spread my reflections across a few posts. I’ve tried to organised the post thematically, but the line between them is slightly arbitrary, bear with me on this.
This is about the sessions that dealt with methodology, classroom activities and tech posts are to follow… All comments welcome (though the session pages on the IATEFL site might provide a better forum). I’m a little bit concerned around the ethics of blogging conferences – see post from Jeremy Harmer here. Should you wish me to change/remove parts – just let me know.

Philida Schellekens – ESOL PCE and SIG Strand

First up for us was the ESOL pre-conference event, themed around spiky profiles and differentiation. This was headed up by Philida Schelleken’s talk on the implications of the common set of standards used for teaching first and second language speakers of English on Skills for Life (and Functional Skills) courses. The crux of the talk was that if we consider that the skills described in the curriculum (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are underpinned by language competence (vocabulary, grammar, etc). First language speakers will usually have this competence, while second-languages speakers of English usually need to develop this competence. This means that while the goal is the same, the path is different. Philida considered what research suggested would be the best way to develop this language competence. The fact that vocabulary items need to be seen 6 or 7 times before learners can use it suggests that teaching reams of low frequency vocabulary is not particularly useful. In her follow up talk in the main conference Philida also considered the question of whether we should spend a long time working on skimming and scanning skills. She pointed to research suggesting that the key to understanding a text is knowing the language; the implication is that this is what we need to focus on.

Philida also suggested that in grammar development, there is only so much that a learner can take in at once – learners will only progress when ready. Philida provided a model from Krashen on the sequence that grammatical features of English are taken in by learners. In terms of considering listening, up to now teaching has concentrated on comprehension and meaning, however little time is spent on processing the stream of sounds that make up spoken English and how these are grouped together. This is somewhere where English differs from many languages, so a focus on this can help learners deal with what is arguably the most important skill for new arrivals in the country.

These talks asked a lot of questions that are there to be considered, how do we as teachers best provide for classes where L1 & L2 speakers are mixed together? Are taking the right approach to teaching grammar? It’s hard to argue with the assertion that’s greater focus on teaching how sounds fit together will help learners.

Peter Grundy – Plenary: Strange Seas of Thought: Literal Meaning and Language Teaching

Also focussed on methodology was Peter Grundy’s plenary on the Saturday morning. This focussed on pragmatics. The basic point was that words are the inadequate public representation of private concepts. Our thoughts are much more complex and precise that what we are able to convey with our language. Grundy is a great speaker and if you have the time to spare it is well worth watching the recording of his session on Brighton Online. I’m not sure whether there was anything particularly new around the concept of pragmatics but there were interesting conclusions drawn for language teaching. We need to consider how much space is given to teaching metaphors as a literary representation of concepts, perhaps more needs to be made of the nature of the link between words and thoughts. A contrast was made between grammar translation as the transformation of L1 words to L2 words as compared to a more humanistic approach that goes from L1 words to concepts and then to L2. As translation is ‘my other thing’ this was interesting as translation studies has gone through a similar argument – I don’t think that there are many translation scholars who see it as being about directly transforming one set of words to another (translation clients are another story…). Grundy also considered that it could be strange that speaking is seen as an easy skillgiven that it involvea the continuous production of words from concepts.

I’ve always found pragmatics strangely fascinating, so it was good to see someone who knew their stuff really well talking about it. I hadn’t really considered how it fitted in with humanistic approaches before, so that’s a thought that I need to follow up on.

Lizika Goldschlager – English for the Workplace

On Sunday, Lizika Goldschlager presented on how Cultura Inglesa São Paulo designed courses for IT customer support workers in Brazil. Brazil has become a growing market for outsourcing customer service. The focus of this talk was on curriculum design for these kind of courses. In customer service, the key foci are developing speaking and listening skills as well as intercultural competence. The talk also considered the paradox of this particular profession where the ideal candidate – technically and linguistically skilled – is unlikely to need to take an Entry level job. While the context of this talk was far removed from that which I work in – this idea of tailoring courses around a particular employment context is becoming more and more important in FE, I really believe in an embedded/ESP approach to teaching language and literacy.

Hugh Dellar – Memories

Sunday afternoon featured Hugh Dellar (University of Westminster, author of Innovations and Outcomes) talking about Memories and how we can use memorisation in the classroom. Hugh’s main point was that language learning involves a large memory load, to be competent in English a learner needs to be able to use around 15,000 words, yet this cannot be solely gained through the language contained in course books. Also much of what is presented in lessons is likely to be forgotten soon after it is ‘taught’. However memorisation techniques and rote learning are seen as out of fashion in many educational contexts. Hugh went on to present a number of techniques that he uses to try and aid this memorisation process:
  • Model the turn you want students to take – this presents new language but also recycles language previously taught in order to aid memorisation. You can grade language and use voice to highlight expressions that you want to focus on.
  • Round up speaking slots – not to focus on errors, but reformulating language. This allows ‘better’ language to be presented to learners and you can also use this as an opportunity to elicit language previously taught to aid memory.
  • Test and remember – after doing exercises in class (supported by handouts, coursebook, etc.) ask learners to try to memorise the language and then repeat the exercise without the text. Also, you can re-elicit texts to get learners to remember the language that they have learnt

This was an interesting session, which seemed to be looking at similar issues as Philida’s earlier sessions. The query that it immediately raises is whether this approach leads to too much teacher presentation, I suppose like everything, it comes down to the balance with which it is used – Hugh’s point that memorisation is a key part of language learning is hard to dispute and finding ways to improve this is likely to be useful for learners. It was also interesting, that unusually for a conference like this, Hugh was able to present what actually happened in a classroom – which is strangely unusual at a teaching conference. You can see the videos at www.youtube.com/HeinleELT and if you want to find out more you can find Hugh and his co-author Andrew Walkley at: www.facebook.com/hughdellarandrewwalkley

Scott Thornbury, Luke Meddings, Candy van Olst, Anthony Gaughan & Hugh Vickers – Dogme Symposium

@thornburyscott @LukeMeddings @dingtonia @AnthonyGaughan @howardvickers.

Monday afternoon saw the Dogme Symposium, featuring Scott Thornbury, Luke Meddings, Anthony Gaughan and Candy van Olst. Luke Meddings kicked things off by asking us to consider what the primary focus of a classroom was, that it should focussed on learners, their lives, and their language. Luke point was that Dogme was not Dogma (and drilled us on the proper Danish pronunciation so they didn’t even sound the same) and was about what can be done within the frameworks that we work in. The key is to allow ourselves to become moderators rather than transmitters, that conversation can be the driver, though it is not enough alone – there needs to be a focus on the emergent language. Dogme is a shift in focus from pre-lesson preparation towards post-lesson reflection. I think the key point is that Dogme is part of a continuum,that we do have restrictions within our own contexts, but that we can still apply Dogme principles within that framework.

Luke was followed by Candy van Olst who gave an impassioned talk about the importance of story telling. She talked about the importance of story telling in many cultures and how listening to learners’ stories is the best way to discover their true needs. This approach originally came from her work teaching refugees in Africa but has she has taken this into teaching Business English. By telling their stories, students reveal what their needs and interests are. Story telling was also seen as a step for learners to become self-directed – this focus on their own lives and needs provides empowerment. Teaching ESOL I have always been aware of the importance of story telling in certain cultures, but I had not realised how we use storytelling in very different contexts – such as international business. The relevance of focussing on learners own lives has never been clearer, it is such a clear motivating factor – whoever the students are.

Anthony Gaughan spoke about how a Dogme approach can be given to trainees on short initial teacher training courses. This repeated many of the messages that the other presenters had mentioned. Anthony works in Hamburg training on CELTA courses, the approach taken is to give trainees an introduction to the ideas in teaching unplugged and then to ask learners to teach their second lesson using these principles – giving them no support on the kind of resources that they can use in this lesson, supporting instead the ideas that they have. As you would expect, the learners who are most successful are those who can successfully bring in ideas relevant to the needs and ideas of the learners. Using this approach in teacher training has been valued by most of the trainees on these courses. Anthony considered that the key for trainers is that they need to know how many ideas to offer – trainees need to be ready to take these on before they will. A quote attributed to Julian Edge was “You can train me, you can educate me, but you can’t develop me”. Anthony believes that the Dogme training approach allows trainees to take greater responsibility for their own development.

The final speaker was Howard Vickers who spoke about how technology can be used within a Dogme approach. He saw coursebooks as being completely and perfectly formed but only within their own bubble, which learners do not live within. The language classroom needs to burst the bubble and bring learners’ lives into the classroom. Technological tools can be used to do this, allowing learners to capture problematic language from outside live into the classroom, where it can be tackled. It can also be used to bring elements of the learners own lives – photos, etc to inform lessons. An interesting point was that Howard saw the role of technology as being focussed more on what happened outside the classroom that inside the lesson, where the focus should be more on dialogue. The role of technology here is to bridge the gap between the outside world and the classroom.

The floor was then opened for the audience to comment and direct questions to the panel. The key points that came up were about teaching Dogme within a rigid framework and whether beginner teachers were able to use a Dogme approach. Regarding the first point, it was recognised that we all teach within a framework and that this needs to be respected, however within that framework there are likely to be opportunities to apply Dogme principles. As regards beginner teachers, there was a lot of debate with some participants doubting how well beginners can take on this approach, while others had seen examples of people who had done it very well. I think this is a point that people are unlikely to come to any agreement on any time soon, but there was definitely a belief on the part of the panel that it could be done.

I have a lot of time for Dogme as an idea, I’m just not sure how good I am at it, I think a key point, that gets forgotten with most methods is that it’s more of a continuum than a binary. I just need to see how I can move along that continuum. This was a varied session which allowed a number of aspects of Dogme to be explored, it does still seem scary how the EFL sector is often welded to coursebooks, I like to think (maybe naïvely) that in FE we have at least moved beyond that.


9 thoughts on “IATEFL – On Methodology

  1. Hi Phil, thanks for sharing your reflections on the iatefl conference.
    I was also at the conference on the Saturday and really enjoyed Mr Grundy’s plenary.
    Reading your post I can see I many interesting sessions but I will check the links you’ve suggested.
    It would have been nice to meet you buy it goes to show how big there conference was!
    Thanks again for the informative review.

  2. Hey Phil,

    Even though I was there too, and was in many of the same sessions you were in, I loved being able to see some of the other sessions, the ones I didn’t attend because I was somewhere else – and will most certainly check the links out.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Obrigada! Beijo!


    1. It’s always good to see other people’s thoughts, we construct our own realities, so it’s good to see those of others. There wa just so much to write about…. (there’s another post coming…)

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