Karin trains novice teachers on the Trinity CertTESOL courses and coordinates teacher training courses in Prague while Dan is responsible for the DipTESOL in Prague and is the Director of Studies of Oxford House. Together they are dedicated to provide and promote equal opportunities in teaching. We talked to them this morning to hear what the conference was like:
There is this saying that if you’ are the smartest person in a room, you are in the wrong room. At the All In Include and Educate conference last weekend it was easy to feel like you were in the right room all the time. It was a grassroots conference,the first of its kind, held on the tiny island of San Servoloand literally every person you ran into was a resourceful, experienced and interesting ELT professional with amazing ideas on how to be more inclusive in our industry and a wonderful sense of humour.
The plenaries and workshops were all built around the topic of inclusion and reached from ideas on how to include learners through differentiation over how to train teachers to actually deal with the so-called PARSNIPs that we were always taught to avoid to issues of LGBT in the classrooms of the 21st century.
In her workshop on the meaning of inclusion in theory and practice Maria Byrne created conditions similar to what dyslexic learners might face in a classroom: Take a piece of paper and a pen, use the hand you don’t usually write with, cross your legs if your pen is black but don’t if your pen is blue. Copy the text on the board but swap every “e” for a “?”, every a for a “=” and every “I” for a “+”. The text we were supposed to copy was in a small font and on a hazy background. We did not get enough time for the task and were not allowed to talk to each other. With this experiment Maria also encouraged us to examine our coping mechanisms: Some of us stated straight away: “I can’t do this.” Others started laughing at our incapability to do the task efficiently. Clever ones wrote down the coding “e – ?” and so forth to be faster. It was an impressive look into a world many of our students live in. In another talk, awareness was risen of how many different forms of dyslexia there really are. Not being able to spell correctly is just one of many.
Michael Carrier showed how English can be brought to the remotest and most rural areas of the world. English is an important tool to be able to compete on the job market and making it accessible to more people creates chances for the less fortunate on the planet. Proficiency in English can in fact be measured in Euros or Dollars for employees. The higher the proficiency, the better the income.
Another impressive take away from the conference was Fiona McArthur and Ollie Wood’s workshop. It started with simple questions like: What would you teach an A1 class? Numbers? The alphabet? How to introduce themselves? And how would you teach it? Visuals, matching activities, readings… Now go back a step and answer the questions again, considering that one of the 6 students is blind.
We brainstormed ideas on how to use sounds, realia and lots of materials to include a blind student in a class of seeing students. Fiona and Ollie had actually been faced with this challenge at their school and learned from it that the seeing students benefitted hugely from the methodology that was used to specifically include the blind student, not only because describing a picture – the classic information gap activity – finally became an authentic task. Something that was still in our heads this morning when we planned our lessons: None of them would have worked for Paolo, the blind student.
We presented our journey on the path of equality in Prague: How we got rid of discriminatory language in our school and our marketing, how we battle schools that still send us job openings for trainees that contain exclusive terminology like “native speaker”. Our talk gave practical tips to the ones who want to copy the success of Oxford House and Oxford TEFL Prague when it comes to equality in the industry and bringing back professionalism to ELT. As Dan concluded: “Best jobs for the best teachers. Not the best jobs for the teachers with the best passports.”
This conference felt really organic and in a way more natural than many of the big ones: It was a bunch of dedicated professionals coming together to share their wisdom and tricks of the trade (and to sing and play the guitar in the evening over some good Italian wine). In its spirit and intimacy, it reminded us a bit of Innovate ELT.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Oxford TEFL and Oxford House promote equality, contact Dan or Karin at [email protected] or [email protected] or check out Oxford House’s mission statement.