Tamara Parsons is a teacher, materials writer and course designer. She is particularly interested in EdTech and its relevance/usefulness in the classroom and beyond. Tamara is a regular InnovateELT conference attendee and speaker. In this blog post she shares her reflections on the 5th conference which took place this May 17th and 18th and is hosted and coorganised by Oxford TEFL.
Another year, another hugely enjoyable and worthwhile InnovateELT conference at Oxford TEFL Barcelona. It is time once again to reflect on friends made, friends re-discovered, contacts created and knowledge shared.
The theme this year was ‘Back to the Future’ – and there was certainly a lot of looking both back and forward at the potential future of ELT. From Scott Thornbury’s rather cataclysmic prediction that we would all be out of a job in a few years (thanks for that!) to the burying of a time capsule in the garden of Oxford TEFL for (hopefully) future teachers of English to unearth, and the revisiting of plenaries gone by, we were treated to a full 360 vision of ELT. Additional plenaries from Nicola Prentis, Marek Kiczkowiak and Daniel Barber ensured we all had our feet firmly on the ground, thinking about the role of women, non-native speaker teachers and how we could, and should, generally make the ELT environment a better place to be. I think a consensus was reached, that in 2019, it is finally unacceptable to choose a teacher, presenter or speaker on the grounds of their gender or first language.
Daniel Barber’s closing plenary, an impassioned plea for the ELT industry to play its part in the rebalancing of the environment, struck a chord with many but it was interesting to see that an exercise in thinking of ways to do this through ELT quickly became skewed towards the well-being and mental health of teachers. Not, I suspect, where Daniel intended to go with the activity, but clearly of great importance to the teachers present. Mind you, I don’t suppose there was a teacher present who hadn’t expected an activity to go one way, only for it to shoot off at a tangent?!
Well-being, inclusivity and equality were recurrent themes, the idea that our learners are individuals is not a new one, but the focus on understanding what makes each one tick and how best to engage and motivate them is gaining traction in the modern classroom. With talks from Andre Hellund on neuromyths and Anna Zernova on metacogition, is clear that there is a distinct move towards learning being a skill in itself that can be learned and fostered, rather than an obligation that should just be ‘got on with’. Putting learners at the forefront of everything we do was, as ever, a mantra that was repeated in many sessions such as those on emotional intelligence (Emma Reynolds) and how to deal with ‘generation Z-ers’ (Anna Neil) both opening up new ways of thinking and further incorporating inclusivity in the classroom.
While there was a lot of what could (in a former age) be termed ‘touchy feely stuff’, there was also a strong focus on the role of EdTech in SLA. This was heralded by Anastasia Dedyukhina’s fascinating talk on how tech changes the way we learn. In all honesty, I’ve spent years trying to tell my own teenagers that having their phones at hand while doing vital exam revision was a really bad idea, it was a relief to see actual scientific studies that vindicated my views. Sadly, too late for my own boys, but certainly something we can now all work on in the future. The keynote speeches on Saturday were, in a break from the usual garden tradition, held in the auditorium of Escola Pia close to Oxford TEFL, what was most astonishing was the number of chairs! In previous garden talks, it was hard to get an idea of how many people were present. Seeing so many chairs laid out, on the other hand, belied the small, intimate feeling that InnovateELT always has.
EdTech and interactivity were popular, Amanda McLoughlin’s demo lesson on escape rooms and Teresa Bestwick’s ‘Bandersnatch’ were both extremely popular, and the topic of a good few discussions during the break. Alex Neil’s session on coding was so popular there was standing room only but, sadly, blighted by the curse of technology. However, the apps that were created during his session were so easy to make and simple to use that I really hope that he comes back and runs the session again next year as a drop-in (please?).
There was also a strong focus on the use of video. ITN ran both a drop-in session on Friday evening and a talk (with Billie Haase) on Saturday, both with a view to guiding teachers in making their own videos and a session on how to use video in the classroom (Sue Kay and Vaughan Jones). Added to the sessions on design from Amit Patel, ELTJam’s own Laurie Harrison, Berta Rojals and Katy Asbury, we were treated to some excellent guidance on developing our own courses. Enabling teachers to strike out on their own rather than being tied to poorly paying schools, is something that is becoming increasingly possible with the growth in online teaching and the many platforms on offer.
InnovateELT has been a highlight in my ELT calendar for a few years now, and never disappoints. This year, as ever, I learnt a huge amount from both a professional and personal perspective (who knew I was that good at pool?!). The personal and intimate feeling is unlike any other conference, the free-flowing coffee, tea, beer and vermouth just go to make the whole weekend feel like time spent with friends who just happen to have a common interest rather than work. Those that go are genuinely passionate about the industry and their part in it. We really do get excited about new ways to incorporate pronunciation, the way our learners’ brains work or how to teach grammar to teens without them noticing. We do, also, get excited by freebies, competitions and prizes. This year there was no shortage of excellent prizes on offer too, from a signed (yes, signed – ooh) copy of Duncan Foord’s book to a VR headset (thank you very much ITN – I’m particularly enjoying that one!) and all sorts in between.
The sharing of knowledge, skills, ideas and friendships are an integral part of this unique and special event, and the reason (along with the beer) that so many of us return each year. So, despite Scott Thornbury’s jolly prediction that innovation will sound the death knell for language teaching, I came away from InnovateELT 2019 with the distinct feeling that ELT is very much alive and kicking and evolving to meet the needs of those it serves.
The future of ELT is bright – it’s just not the same industry that Scott Thornbury started in. Pass it on…