English UK South West Annual Conference

English UK South West Annual Conference

by Sue Fulford

A last-minute decision to attend the English UK South West Conference was well worth the early morning defrosting of the car following the first severe frost of the year. Arriving an hour later at the familiar surroundings of Millfield School in Somerset in good time for the start of the conference gave me the chance to have a good look round the exhibitors’ stalls full of books – my passion and probably one of my biggest expenses. You can never have too many books.

The Opening Plenary was given by Adrian Underhill – “The Facilitation Thing”. Adrian is a well-known author of text books, such as Sound Foundations and the well know App Sounds: The Pronunciation App. (Definitely worth downloading in my opinion). He is also an IATEFL Ambassador.

The plenary takes us on a journey to look beyond the methodology of the classroom and looks into the qualities that make the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher.

  • Reflecting on our own experiences in the classroom, what was it that made our own teachers stand out during our learning experience?
  • What did the teacher do to make it a good or bad experience?
  • How did it affect you? Did the teacher have what Adrian calls The Factor X?

From this we need to look at our own teaching – are we teachers or facilitators? Is there a difference?

  • How can two methods get the same results with different teachers?
  • Is it the way the teachers respond?
  • Does empathy, genuineness, being non-judgemental create a better relationship in which learning blossoms. Is it true that ‘the more meaning something has to a student the longer lasting value it has’?
  • I know there are a lot of questions here, but it is for you to discover the answers.

Following the coffee break and another look around the book stalls – obligatory like going into charity shops for me anyway – I attended a talk by Jason Anderson again an author (Speaking Games and Role Plays for Today) and educational consultant amongst many positions. Again, this was an interesting topic with much food for thought, entitled Effective Differentiation through Cooperative Learning.

Here we looked at the background to differentiation and how it intertwines with cooperative learning. We looked at the key features of cooperative learning and how it fits in with diverse and homogenous groups ideally without increasing the teacher’s workload or without knocking the esteem of the lower-achieving learners.

A delicious lunch, as always, gave us all time to meet up with old friends and to make new acquaintances, always a pleasure.

The next talk was from Mark Waistell, another well know figure in the ‘English’ world. Senior Partner at Accent International and Chair of Business English UK and a chemist amongst other things. The talk was entitled “Teaching Doesn’t Matter”. Hmmmmm – my thought exactly. (Mind you his earlier talk was called “Take me to your leader” – the mind boggles).

Here we discussed ‘The Job’,

  • What is the Job?
  • Do you need a teacher? We compared Distance Learning (without a teacher) compared to Face-to-face teaching/facilitating!!!
  • We then looked at what we did as teachers. How much of the time do we spend listening, speaking, reading, writing, motivating, evaluating, stimulating, giving feedback, correcting, chatting, organising, leading, following, managing and disciplining?
  • Leaving us with the question, What can I do to develop myself?

Last but not least I attended a talk by Olha Madylus, author of Film, TV and Music – a photocopiable activities book for teenagers. She is also a well-respected member of the ‘English’ community particularly interested in promoting understanding and motivating learners. The talk was “Developing Speaking Skills with Low Level Adult Students”.

We all started off on the stage, a welcome wake-up session, following a busy day and big lunch. Here we played a game of Ladders to demonstrate the value of using simple and repeated language to give the students confidence. We may know in our heads what we want to say but to speak as a beginner can be fraught with many complications.

  • Am I saying the right thing?
  • Is my pronunciation going to be good enough?

I don’t know how to construct a sentence? I’m too embarrassed or shy. It then becomes an ordeal.

We then looked at some simple strategies to allow the students to develop their skills by drawing them into the task in hand without the stress of the all those frustrations noted above. The focus was on high level frequency generic expressions with the use of scaffolding and simple signposting. Of course, as we all know games and role-play are key features.

If there are any teachers out there that have not attended any of these kinds of events, please do consider it. A valuable and enjoyable experience.

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