Category Archives: conferences

How do YOU Choose a Conference Session?

So many numbers... Naomi's Photos
So many numbers…
Naomi’s Photos

Consider the following situation before answering the questions below.

You are faced with the following data about the upcoming ETAI International conference:

50 workshops and talks
13 research papers
12 keynote speakers of international renown
11 members of the ETAI board and volunteers who are working hard to make it happen
9 sessions aimed specifically at teacher educators including a SIG Day, organised by our TT&D SIG: http://www.etai.org.il/ttd
6 Short N’Sweet presentations
5 symposia – organised by Macmillan Education, the British Council,
Google Teachers Academy (GTA) graduates as well as two research
symposia
4 international plenary speakers
4 UNworkshops
3 Forums on various topics
3 Special / evening activities: Quiz night, Pecha Kucha, Energizing Debate
2 presidents in attendance – presidents of both TESOL and IATEFL –
international associations (ETAI is an affiliate/associate of both)
1 organization that makes it all possible: ETAI

You can’t possibly attend all sessions, workshops and events. So how do YOU choose which ones to go to?

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Do you choose to attend sessions according to the identity of the speaker (someone you know of, someone you have heard before)?

Or…

Are you “topic oriented”, basing your decisions on the topic, regardless of whether you’ve heard of the speaker before?

Or…

Do you employ a “potluck approach”?  Do you randomly attend sessions according to where you happen to be instead of traipsing around the venue?

Or…

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Do you do what I personally do, which is employ “the eclectic approach”?

I make it a point at every conference to…

*try and attend sessions given by speakers I know from previous experience and speakers abroad (seize the opportunity!),

*attend some sessions chosen according to topics that are directly relevant to my life as a classroom teacher,  such as vocabulary acquisition, reading comprehension strategies and more.

*randomly pick talks given by teachers whom I never heard of (especially first time presenters), partly based on their proximity to the location I happen to be in when my tired feet start protesting. When I was a young teacher I never would have entered a session on listening comprehension activities or integrating songs in the classroom – I teach Deaf and hard of hearing students! Yet I’m so glad I began including “potluck” choices. Such sessions have sparked many an unexpected idea for things I could do in my own class!

So how do YOU choose which session to attend?

Oh! Don’t forget to leave time to chat with other teachers – that’s an important part of the awesome conference experience!

Blogging for ETAI International Conference – An Interview with Professor Penny Ur

 

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Engage

Enhance

Energize

These are the words that make up the logo for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) These are also the words best used when introducing  our next plenary speaker,  Professor Penny Ur. Over the years she has been engaging with teachers in various capacities: teaching courses, writing books, giving talks at conferences, both at ETAI and abroad. We all know that teachers leave such encounters with enhanced professional skills and the energy to get up and go back into the classroom, motivated to reach new heights.

In this interview, Professor Ur shares what keeps her motivated to tirelessly promote teacher development, what manages to annoy her, and what engages her in her free time.

Q: You have been committed to promoting the skills of EFL teachers for years – what keeps you going?

A: What I enjoy most is the awareness that I am actually succeeding in teaching something: that the teachers are getting some value out of my sessions or books that they can take into the classroom.  When I get responses like: ‘Ah yes, of course, why didn’t I think of that’, or ‘I tried what you said in the classroom and it worked’, or ‘Thanks for reassuring me about something I’ve been doing but wasn’t sure it was a good idea’, or ‘Your book really helped me when I was starting out’ – it makes my day!  Sometimes the response is only in body language or facial expression – the responses from an audience as I speak or as a discussion develops.  A message is coming across: we are hearing you and understanding and learning….It’s still great: gives me a ‘buzz’! Makes it all worthwhile.

Naomi's photos
Naomi’s photos

Q: You always seem so patient when you meet with teachers. Is there anything that annoys you?

A: What annoys me most I suppose is the unexamined assumptions that are at the basis of a lot of things teachers are told ‘never’ to do or ‘always’ to do, but there is no evidence whatsoever that they are in fact good practice, and may be actually counter-productive. For example: teachers bend over backwards to explain a new word in English, when it could be clarified in less than a second by using L1… because they’ve been told not to use L1 in the classroom. Or they insist on learners trying to guess the word’s meaning from context, when there is actually solid empirical evidence that most words are in fact unguessable from natural contexts, and therefore the learners usually get the answer wrong … because they’ve been told to get students to infer meanings rather than be told. It’s very difficult to uproot such assumptions, however silly they are, and however much empirical research contradicts them, and teachers often find it very difficult to abandon them,  because they are so deeply entrenched in conventional thinking.  I could bore you with this one for hours with lots more examples, but let’s move on…

Active Grammar Introduction, Cambridge University Press
Active Grammar Introduction, Cambridge University Press

 

Q: You could never bore me! What is your latest book about?

A: It’s a very lightweight (both literally and metaphorically!) book called Penny Ur’s 100 teaching tips.  It grew out of something I heard David Berliner say years ago: that doctors pass on their experience-based wisdom to younger doctors through ward rounds in hospitals: but teachers’ secrets go with them to the grave!  So I swore that my secrets would not go with me to the grave.  I’d write a book with all sorts of tips I’d learnt through my own teaching experience, and thus share them with the next generation of practitioners. Not that all of them are necessarily relevant or ‘right’ for all other teachers: but at least they’re available!

Q: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?

A: I suppose Grammar Practice Activities. All my books grew out of a sort of excitement: ‘wow, I’ve found out something important about teaching, and it really works, I need to tell people about this’… but this one filled a particularly urgent need. Most textbooks to this day provide mainly accuracy-focused grammar exercises like gap-fills or matching exercises, and rarely give students opportunities to practice the grammar to ‘say their own thing’ in meaningful, fun activities. Such practice is really needed to help students integrate their knowledge of the grammar into their own production (as well as, not instead of, the conventional exercises).   So it’s the book that I perhaps found most useful for my own teaching. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

A: My main preoccupations outside the profession are family-linked.  We have four children and nine grandchildren, all of whom are (thankfully!) in Israel, and three of the four families within an hour’s drive away … so you can imagine, a lot of time spent babysitting, frequent birthdays and other family gatherings. I quite like cooking and baking, though not brilliant at it, and spend hours, even days, on that when the family is coming for a meal or festival or a weekend. My husband is a botanist, and ex-tour guide, so we take time to go walking when he has rare plants to find in different parts of the country. And occasional trips abroad, to visit family in the UK or US, or just to tour new places.

What else? Occasional movies and theatre, and, of course, reading (addicted to my Kindle!)

 

Blogging for ETAI International Conference – IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg’s Acrostic

Marjorie Rosenberg

This is the  second interview of the series “Meet our Plenary Speakers” for the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6). IATEFL President Marjorie Rosenberg readily agreed to go along with the spirit of this blog (called VISUALISING ideas, remember?) and to participate in a “visual interview”.  It isn’t surprising given her keen interest in different learning styles and her  ongoing  photography contributions to the ELTpics  (photos by teachers / for teachers) project. However,  one very important fact about Marjorie relates to auditory aspects rather than visual ones  –  read on to find out how a passion for music and the opera tie in with teaching English as a foreign language!

And here it is!

 

Blogging for ETAI International Conference – An Interview with Tesol President Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis Official Photo
TESOL President Andy Curtis (from TESOL Presidents Blog)

 

One of the exciting things about attending an international conference is meeting people whose belief in the power of teaching and teachers has had global impact. The upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) brings us inspiring  educators from around the globe.  I’m honored to post an interview with TESOL President Andy Curtis,  a plenary speaker at the conference, who talked to me about becoming a teacher in the face of adversity and how teachers on the global level have more in common than we tend to think. Many thanks to President Curtis for this interview!

NE:  What profession did you dream of when you were a child?

Against All Odds (Naomi's Photos)
Against All Odds
(Naomi’s Photos)

AC: My parents came to England in the 1950s, as poor immigrants ‘imported’ from the British Empire in Guyana, South America, as cheap labour for the ‘Glorious Motherland’. Added to that, there was great deal of racial violence on the streets of England in the 1960s and 1970s. Consequently, we did not have much of a childhood, and our main goals revolved around making it to adulthood intact. For a while, I harboured hopes of being a writer of fiction. But like many immigrant parents, trying so hard to protect their children from the prejudices they experienced as adults, the creativity was knocked out of us, and we were duly funnelled into ‘vocationally appropriate’ directions. For me, that meant the health sciences, and a medical scholarship, which I eventually gave up, to my parents unending disappointment, to become a language teacher, which for my Dad, just added insult to injury.

NE: What caused you to leave the field of medicine for teaching? What was your first teaching position?

AC: In my original professional incarnation, I was a Medical Science Officer in the UK National Health Service, with a specialism in Clinical Biochemistry. I very much enjoyed being on the hospital wards, working with patients and doctors, helping to align diagnosis with treatment. But after some years, I began to be disheartened by the singularly ‘curative’ approach to healthcare, in which we waited for someone to get ill, then tried to cure them, usually with hit-and-miss approaches that sometimes worked, eventually, but which, as often as not, made the person more ill. In those days, if you weren’t sick when you went into the hospital, you sure as hell would be by the time you got out. On top of that, people were reduced to a set of compartmentalized symptoms, stripped of their clothes, and of their dignity. My first teaching position was as student teacher in a secondary school in a poor part of the Northeast of England. After 25 years, I believe I have helped to save far more lives than I would’ve done as a medic.

NE: How/when did you first become involved with TESOL? Do you still remember the first conference you attended?

AC: After completing my MA in Applied Linguistics and my PhD in International Education, both at the University of York, in England, I was keen to go overseas, so I applied for and was offered a job at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. That was in the mid-1990s, and as me and my siblings were very much products of the British Empire, in India, I was curious to see what another, far-flung, country, but also part of the Empire – and a symbol of its demise – was like. One of the best things that happened to me during those first five years in Hong Kong (1995-2000, and I went back again, from 2007 to 2011) was that TESOL Past President Kathi Bailey, was a one-year Visiting Professor at our university (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, aka CUHK). Kathi encouraged all of us in the ELT Unit at CUHK to become members of the TESOL International Association. I attended my first TESOL Convention in 1995, when it was held in Long Beach, California.

NE: What do you enjoy about being President of the TESOL International Association? 

Mexico Symposium, Andy Curtis with Araceli Salas of MEXTESOL (from Tesol Presidents Blog)
Mexico Symposium, Andy Curtis with Araceli Salas of MEXTESOL
(from Tesol Presidents Blog)

AC: It’s been a gruelling but great two years in TESOL’s presidential line, with one more to go. As it turns out, being the President during the Association’s 50th anniversary year, and presiding over its 50th anniversary convention, has made it an especially intense couple of years. But the two hundred thousand miles that I travelled, between 2015 and 2016, gave me the opportunity to meet thousands of members of the Association in dozens of countries. Some of our friends, in our home base, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, who do not travel much, say to me: “You must love to travel”. I try not to sound ungrateful or to be grumpy, but the truth is that, as the result of ever-increasingly global conflict, any kind of travel, especially international travel by air, is an increasingly unpleasant experience. But the being there makes up for the pains of the getting there and getting back. To have teachers, from all over the world, tell you their personal-professional stories has been a humbling and moving experience.

NE: You have worked in several different countries. Did you find significant differences in the teaching methodology or attitudes towards the profession in different countries?

AC: It’s interesting that I’m often asked about the differences, while what I usually see are the similarities. For example, the fad-fashion/claim that we are “post methods” does not appear to be true anywhere. Hearing teachers tell me about what they do in their ELT classes, and sitting in their classrooms, I can hear and see that they are all using methods of one kind or another, even if they do not use the labels assigned by applied linguists, such as CLT, TBLT, etc. But we are now beginning to fully acknowledge what I refer to in my work as ‘the centrality of context’, in which where we do what we do is at least as important – and maybe even more important – than who does what to whom, in the language classroom. Certainly, the Technological Divide, in terms of the haves and the have-nots, can make a big difference, but the qualities and characteristics of a ‘good learner’ and a ‘good teacher’ appear to be much the same wherever I have been.

NE: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

AC: I joke that – but like all such jokes, there is a grain of truth in it – my family’s motto is: “Why be merely interested, when you can be completely obsessed”. So, when I signed on to be in TESOL’s presidential line for three years, I chose to give up a well-paid, full-time academic position to this work for three years, with no salary. As a result, although this is not a healthy, balanced or sustainable approach, I have had little or no spare time in the last couple of years. But my list of things that I will go back to doing, next year, such as Tai Chi, Curling and Fishing, is growing longer by the day…

 

 

Who is THIS at YOUR School? Conference FUN!

What? Naomi is asking questions again? (Naomi's Photos)
What? Naomi is asking questions again?
(Naomi’s Photos)

Sometimes we need to pause and take a humorous look at the different characters that make up the colorful tapestry we call a school – students, fellow teachers, administrators, parents, the person wielding a screwdriver, the one with the key to the photocopying machine… It could even be that pesky barrier to the school parking area that slows you down in the morning.

And what better time to do that than at the upcoming  ETAI INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE?

Conferences are a perfect time to celebrate teacher’s creativity, sense of humor and good advice. Seeing responses from all over the world just proves how we are all in the same boat.

Two years ago, teachers sent in their seven word autobiographies. Everyone chuckled over them as they were presented between sessions.

Last year the closing plenary showcased teachers’ messages from around the globe to their younger teacher self.  We all discovered what role “salad” and “moodhoovers” play in a new teacher’s life!

So, what question does one ask teachers around the globe, when it’s a  special three day international conference with first rate speakers?! This question:

“Who is this character at your school”?

From time to time I will be posting photos of animals or inanimate objects along with the question – who is this character at your school?

For starters, we’ll begin with two photos. Later on I will be posting one at a time.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

At my school, this would be the janitor in charge of changing the setting on our classroom’s heating system from hot to cold when the seasons change. This perfectly represents how long it takes him to make it one flight down and down a corridor to my classroom… Who would this be at your school? Fill out the very very short form here to submit your answer!

Now how about this pair? Who would they be at your school? I’m not going to share my own reply just yet – head on to the very short form and fill out yours!

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

More to come!

Looking forward to your answers!

 

 

Warning – Adding Independent Professional Development to New Year’s Resolutions Can be Hazardous!

 

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

Temptation is everywhere, just a click away.

For example, Anthony Gaughan and Phil Wade are currently offering  “a one-month teacher development experiment, 5 minutes a day of reflection for a working month“, completely free.

2016 will find #ELTChat continuing to tempt teachers with weekly dynamic Twitter chats on a wide variety of ELT issues. So many ideas and links are mentioned that summaries are posted afterwards to allow a teacher to take it all in.

Even one of the moderators, James Taylor (aka The Teacher James), when posting about his webinar, tempts you with a vision of the kind of teacher you might aspire to be “If you’re the kind of teacher who goes to webinars, reads books, goes to conferences and generally tries to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of ELT…”

All this and more, yet not a DANGER  warning in sight.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

There should be THREE WARNINGS, to be precise.

1) Independent professional development can be addictive. The more you read, discuss and reflect with your online PLN, the more you want to do it. Which means spending a larger chunk of your life sitting down in addition to all the time you spend sitting down marking papers, preparing lesson plans and attending meetings.  Where is that time spent at the gym going to fit in?

2) Independent professional development might open your mind, and lead to a desire to change, innovate and question. Desires which, to varying degrees, are frowned upon by many institutions. The ensuing conflict of desires can lead to frustration and an awareness of constraints not previously noticed.

3) Independent professional development, for the most part, leaves with you with no documentation to prove you have engaged in it. Or at least no recognized documentation. In this country even a certificate of attendance from an International Conference is useless for official purposes (the explanation being that those conferences give the certificate after checking in, and who knows if the teacher didn’t spend the rest of the time shopping?).

Personally, the warnings wouldn’t have deterred me. Being a part of this “scene” is helping me stay motivated after 30 years of teaching with 10 more to go (I started young). But these are real issues. Issues that hurt.

 

 

“Giving Back” – Looking at iTDi & The 30 Goals Conference

Naomi (1)

On the iTDi blog you will now find a powerful and moving set of posts about “giving back”. As the editor, Kevin Stein, writes in his introduction:

“Opening a door, a gentle nudge, an invitation to step outside our comfort zone, mentors do all this and more…The mentors in our community are an example of how the act of giving is also an act of receiving, how reaching out and helping someone else enriches us all”.

For me, participating in the 30 Goals Project was like gaining a set of mentors. Mentors who opened doors for me. Mentors who taught me to that pausing and reflecting would be good for my teaching and my soul. These same mentors also gave me a tool for reflecting – they helped me start blogging!

Now it’s time for me to give back!

I’m participating in the amazing 30 Goals free online conference for teachers. Proud to be there with all the other teachers who have donated their time and the richness of their experience.

My talk, on playing games when tutoring “one-on-one” will be given at the following link, on Sunday, 6 p.m. (That’s GMT +3).

http://www.30goals.com/naomiepstein.html

“Message to Younger Teacher-Self”: Closing Plenary at ETAI 2015

Thanks to Jane Cohen for the photo
Thanks to Jane Cohen for the photo

 

After collecting over 50 responses from teachers of English as a foreign language from all over the world, I faced a challenging task. I had to present all these meaningful, funny, moving and useful short message to a younger teacher-self in a way that would not tire the audience at the closing plenary of the ETAI Summer Conference, 2015. After all, everyone (including me!) had just spent two action packed days of talks and presentations!

To make a long story short (long as in the number of hours I spent figuring this out), I fed all the responses into a “word cloud” generator, and used that as a means of grouping the responses. For example, “DON’T” actually turned out to be the most frequent word. Would this first group of messages (which included the word don’t) all be of the admonishing kind? As in “Don’t smile at the kids till after the holidays?”.  Nope! Take a look and see for yourself, below!

“LOVE” came out smaller in the word cloud, but the word itself calls for attention. I’m sure you think all the responses were of the “love your students” kind. Check it out – you were surprised by the first one, right?

“Salad” was quite small but demanded attention – what on earth does food have to do with advice for a younger teacher?

I’ll leave you to find out on your own.

Here’s the presentation!

(P.S. Was “moodhoovers” a new phrase for you too?! A great one!)

Reviving Pearls from the Past for the Present at ETAI!

 

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

The Summer ETAI Conference is less than a month away! Join me, if you like, on a short, lighthearted look at some things from previous summer conferences, or jump right to the page which will let YOUR voice be heard (or to be precise, seen,) at the upcoming conference. It’s all embedded here at the bottom of this post.

Teachers from all countries, do share your SHORT (one sentence or two short sentences) pearls of wisdom for new teachers. It will be posted as “Message to Younger Teacher Self”.

We already have wonderful contributions from all over the world, thanks to the interest generated in the topic by the amazing Joanna Malefaki. Here’s a link to one of the great posts on Joanna’s blog, to inspire you –  click here!

A Dangerous Nickname – More Fun with Advice to Younger Teacher Self

Walking in someone else's shoes (Naomi's photos)
Walking in someone else’s shoes (Naomi’s photos)

The responses to my call for “Advice to your Younger Teacher Self” to be used at the upcoming ETAI teacher’s conference have begun coming in from around the globe. So far we have responses from teachers from Israel, Romania, Italy and Greece!

I requested short responses, so as to be easily presented. One teacher had something longer to say, so it has turned into a Guest Post!

So,  here’s Israel (Izzy) Cohen:

“Before selecting a nickname (“Izzy” in my case), check the Internet to see who else has used it. I’m not the first authentically Jewish cartoon character, Sgt. Izzy Cohen, one of Sgt Fury’sHowling Commandos
/s/ Israel Cohen, Sgt E6 USAR
(Check out what he looks like by clicking on the following link! Sure doesn’t look much like a teacher!)
Ironically, the comic book character’s father was “Irving Cohen”, the name on my own birth certificate.”
Ironic indeed!
Add your contribution so that we can present advice from around the world at the conference! All you have to do is fill out the very short form here: