Friday, 19 April 2013

20th IATEFL Slovenia Conference 2013

It's been a while since I came back from Slovenia, but if you have visited this blog before, you will know that sometimes I write about events long after they have happened. In this particular case I have a great story to tell and I feel that, like all stories, it deserves to be told from the beginning.

The story begins on the day I received the letter from ELTA Serbia telling me that I was elected to be one of their two official representatives at the annual IATEFL conference in Slovenia. That also meant that I was going to present at a conference for the first time. You might be surprised by this, knowing that I blog about TEFL, but before Slovenia I always managed to come up with different excuses for not presenting. Now was the right time for me to face my fears.

Two months later I was on my way. I arrived in Ljubljana a day before the conference, so I had a chance to go sightseeing. Ljubljana is beautiful. In the following Animoto, I tried to capture the spirit of the city:

The next day I met a group of Serbian teachers who were also going to the conference and we boarded the van that was going to take us to Topolšica. As I was getting onto the van, I saw Shelly Terell's smiling face and she gave me a hug.

I am so glad that I have managed to meet Shelly face to face. She is every bit as wonderful as I thought she would be. A great thing about being a blogger is that you end up having a large PLN and that, from time to time, you actually get to meet the people in it.

Another person I met face to face was Saša Sirk. Saša has been in my PLN from the very beginning. I met her in my first BaW, where she was one of the moderators.

And don't you dare tell me that my online friends are not my real friends, because they are.

The only session we had on Thursday was Shelly's Motivating our Learners to Write with Webtools. She shared a bunch of free online resources with us, together with great ready-made lesson plans. Her presentation is here.

Friday started with Having Fun with English, a plenary by Vanessa Reis Esteves. She greeted us at the door, thus modelling what she was going to teach us later (get students into the English mode by greeting them at the door, build relationships on the way out, set the tone for the next lesson, always provide some positive feedback). She talked about the similarities between children and teenagers (impatient, distracted, demanding), as well as the differences (children are eager and energetic, teenagers are demotivated and apathetic). Finally, she shared some fun activities that can be used with both age groups.

Bojana Nikic Vujic had a workshop on Critical Thinking in EFL Curriculum. Step by step, she led us through the creation of a lesson plan which included critical thinking skills according to Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. The process included the creation of a first draft of the lesson plan and its revision after the introduction of the Taxonomy. We learnt how to include critical thinking activities into the textbooks we were using.

My presentation was next and, yes, I survived. There were some technical issues, which reminds me: If you are new to presenting, take your own laptop with you whenever possible. And don't use fancy fonts you downloaded from the internet, as they might turn into something else on somebody else's computer. And don't apologise for the technical difficulties you are experiencing. And don't walk in front of the slides while you are presenting.

Presenting in Topolšica

Having said that, I think (hope) that everything went well. Quite a lot of people turned up, which was a pleasant surprise. It was almost the same as teaching a class, in fact. Now, here are my slides:


And, if you would like to hear me giving this presentation again, I will be doing it at the Virtual Round Table in May.

Ok, let's move on.

Willy Cardoso's workshop Open Space: Becoming the Best Teacher You Can Be was for me one of the highlights of the conference. You can read more about Open Space Principles here. Willy gave us little post-it notes and we wrote onto them a topic connected to teacher development that we wanted to discuss. Then we voted and three topics were selected. I am happy to say that mine was one of the three ("I want to keep improving as a teacher"). Three groups were formed based on the topics, but we were free to roam about the room and change groups. Finally, a summary was created for each group, as you can see in Willy's post (I linked to it above). It is easy to see how Open Space Principles can be used in the classroom and adapted to various levels and age groups.

Shelly's plenary Wings and Webs was about the social networks that educators create in order to share resources and collaborate. Shelly looked at reasons why teachers connect and she also shared places where someone who doesn't have a PLN could go to in order to start connecting. Her talk was something that resonated with me deeply. I have been a part of the large international family of educators since 2008 and I have a hard time remembering what my life was like before that.

Jean McCollister and her border collie Bamm Bamm taught us about Animal-assisted Language Teaching. Dogs are used in therapy, as well as in teaching. In a language classroom, a dog is a strong motivator and the presence of a dog also has cognitive benefits. It provides mental stimulation and improves concentration and attention. This is true, since I have to admit that I remember everything from this workshop vividly. My attention was on the dog all the time and I remember everything he did.

Here's more about what Jean and Bamm Bamm do. It's in Slovene, but I am sure you will be able to understand the gist.

Our first plenary on Saturday was Peter Dyer's Getting Them to Speak. It was very interactive and lively, full of practical and fun activities. For one hour, we improvised, we passed around imaginary gifts, we invented stories and we lived in the fantasy world. These activities are easy to prepare and materials light (in fact, there was no PowerPoint).

The next workshop I attended was Danny Singh's The Power of Laughter Exercises in Learning. To find out more about the application of laughter yoga in language teaching, visit Danny's website. All  I can say is that I have enjoyed this workshop tremendously and that I felt more alert after it. I can see how these exercises can lower inhibitions and boost learning.

Willy Cardoso's plenary A Philosophy of Teacher Development  was another treat. He defined teacher development as trying to decrease the gap between what you believe you should do and what you can do in your teaching situation. Teachers should ask themselves to what extent they can influence, shape and create their own knowledge. Classroom observation helps here (recording yourself, asking a colleague to sit in your class, co-teaching with a colleague, or even giving your learners an observation task). Rather than wait for someone to give them the knowledge, the teachers should legitimise what they already know and share it bottom-up. They should create portfolios, start blogging or give a workshop at a conference.

Marija Lukač spoke about Your Next Step on the Professional Development Ladder. Presenting to fellow colleagues is a way for teachers to grow and develop. Nobody is going to promote you into a conference presenter, you need to make that step yourself.

The last presentation I visited on Saturday was Shelly's Teaching with YouTube. Once again, she shared an abundance of links, resources, lesson plans, ideas...

So far I haven't talked much about evening entertainment, which was great. And the beer was more than great. I grabbed this image off Shelly's Facebook timeline, hope she won't mind:

Yes, it's a beer barrel. In fact, there were three, each one with a different kind of beer.

And let's not forget that Topolšica is a spa. That meant that, when we got tired after sitting in workshops all day, we could always grab an hour to swim in the pool or relax in the sauna park. And we even had a discount on massages.

And kudos to the organising committee. They really went out of their way to make us all comfortable and everything was perfectly organised. Thank you, guys.

And, of course, big thanks to ELTA Serbia for sending me there in the first place.

Conferences are not only about presentations and workshops. They are about networking and meeting new people. And going to an international conference means meeting a lot of great new people. For me this was even more valuable than the presentations themselves. In fact I am looking forward to seeing some of those people again in Belgrade on 11th ELTA Conference in May.

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