Thursday, 29 November 2012

MY Tesol France review

Just before my winter break I had the opportunity to take part in my favourite conference of the year, TESOL France, which is held in Paris each November. Nobody would volunteer to go there at that time of year, as the weather in Paris can be grey and wet- but the welcome awaiting you at the venue just has to be experienced to be believed. The Colloquium starts on the Friday evening and finishes on the Sunday afternoon. This makes it a great way to dip your toe in the  conference circuit without drowning, as is possible if you start off with something like IATEFL. My advice would be to work up to that one, as it is possible to suffer from conference fatigue after a few days:-)
For me, the Parisian conference is just the perfect size -cosy, yet it also contains the right elements to be valuable for both CPD and networking purposes. It really is all about the people!!

I arrived at the end of the plenary on the Friday evening, having spent most of the day travelling, or sitting in airports, and that was the best time I could manage. On entering the building I was enveloped in a big hug from Bethany Cagnol, the Tesol France  President. What a welcome! I then found many of my PLN inside, attacking the Vin D'Honneur which had been laid on for everyone- lots more hugs :-). We then wandered out to a local hostellerie for a meal, getting back to the hotel at stupid O'clock...... which set the tone for the rest of the weekend :-)
Meeting Leo for the 1st time
It was a delight to meet face-to-face  some of my PLN with whom I have been interacting  online for what seems like forever. The number of friends at the conference caused the only difficulty- it wasn't possible to go to all of their sessions, so I decided to be realistic about it and choose the ones which would benefit my work and would give me useful material to share with my colleagues back home.

So.... Saturday morning! Breakfast was a hoot. I think the whole hotel had been taken over by presenters and delegates, so we congregated in the breakfast room and looked at our timetables. As we were only minutes from the hotel, we strolled down to the venue with a few minutes to spare and split up to find our sessions.

I chose to start with Leo Selivan's session on synonyms. He made some very valid points about our language. Most of us are aware that it is made up, in the main, of elements of Romance and Germanic languages, but how does that influence our choice of lexis? In fact,  near synonyms must be thought about carefully, rather than the teacher giving a throwaway comment such as: it means X. In fact we have to consider a variety of concepts when dealing with language.
1. One important concept is Register. Often we have the choice of two or more words, one which might be from Latin, and/or French, and one which made its way into our language via Anglo-Saxon. An example could be: Meet-Encounter. Which one to use would depend very much on the context of the situation.
2. Collocation is another important concept : fast car, or quick car? It is important to consider the lexical items which go with our word.
3. Multiword Verbs also raise the issue of register, or language for a specific purpose: put out a fire with a fire extinguisher.
4. Colligation, the grammatical company in which our word works, is another important idea to think about. We can say It is amazing,surprising,etc but we usually say It is NOT surprising, rather than any of the other possibilities in the positive form.
5. Lacuna, a lexical gap or absence of a word in a particular language: Make-Do spring to mind.
6. Semantic Prosody, the environment the word tends to occur in. Think about how you would use: Kingly-Royal- Regal, for example.
Using corpora helps by looking at naturally occurring samples of language. for more information on what was a very interesting talk, check our Leo's website

Then it was time to move on to Jeremy Day's session. He explained that he was a replacement for his colleague, who was presenting at the BESIG conference in Germany, so the session  wouldn't be exactly as advertised. He discussed how to use English 360 to create blended learning possibilities for our students. It was interesting to hear about the advantages of using the programme, such as the wealth of material available to mix and match, allowing teachers to build a tailored course for their learners. I was already aware of this as an option for my business students, and was delighted to hear that the site now contains material which can support general English classes.
After a lunch break it was time to listen to Gabriel Diaz Maggioli, from the New School, who was the plenary speaker for the session I missed. His session was called: Teachers Can Have Their Cake And Eat It, and was about reconceptualising teacher development. He discussed four types of teacher, using a very simple diagram,  and gave ideas about how to change their situations. He looked at teachers who are aware of development issues and actively seek them, the teachers who have the knowledge but aren't aware that they do, the teachers who are aware that they don't have the knowledge, and the teachers who are unaware that they even need to update their knowledge. His description of the mentoring sessions he was instrumental in setting up, and their success, has given me some excellent ideas to try out with my colleagues.

Then we all piled down to the Thevenin suite for Tom Farrell's plenary on Reflective Practice. It was a coup for Tesol France to invite him over from Canada, where he now lives. He is a very engaging, and thought-provoking speaker. This session challenged us to be much more aware of what takes place in the classroom. As Tom asked: How do you know your lesson went well?  Another thing, which was reiterated over the weekend at different sessions, was that we need the ability to step back and to reflect on what we are going to do, what we are doing, and what we did. He highlighted interesting information about the way communication works in the classroom, and suggested ways to reduce the focus on the teacher, in favour of the students- and not just the vocal ones in the class. As he pointed out- Reflective teachers- collect evidence and make informed decisions based on that evidence; The goal being a change in awareness!
I spent most of the day in the same room, as, after looking at the excellent posters on display, I caught up with Nick Michelioudakis whose focus was on Getting People To Like You. I particularly enjoyed this one as the findings came from the field of psychology and could be put into direct practice in the classroom. Does it matter if our students like us? I think that this  information can be used in all walks of life, as well as make life more enjoyable for ourselves and our students. Nick worked on 4 principles.
1: The better you look, the more people like you. Use your appearance to show professionalism to your students.
2: We like people with similarities to ourselves. Find and stress them with your students.
3:  We like people who cooperate with us. Take your students' side.
4: When we associate positive experiences with people, we like them more. Make sure students associate your lesson with pleasant experiences.
We practised exercises to test these theories, which gave us some material to try out in the classroom.
For more from Nick, his website  is
Next, and again in the same space, so that I felt like I was putting down roots in my chair, were Chucky Sandy and Luke Meddings.Their talk was entitled : Stepping Back:How to be yourself in class. This was very much a recurring theme for the weekend, and made a valuable point about taking things as they come, and not being so overprepared that nothing new can take place in your classroom. They used interesing slides and music to highlight their points.

 Tesol France does an open mike night on the Saturday evening, which shows the relationship between teaching and the arts. It is no longer surprising how much talent there is to be found in a normal group of teachers:-). From musicians, singers, dancers, poets and comedians we were well served.  Particular mention should go to Carolyn Kerr who entertained us with her story of her Kazakhstani student, and both Sue Lyon-Jones and Beth Cagnol who have beautiful singing voices, albeit in different musical styles. I hope someone has recorded the evening for posterity! The evening finished off in a local restaurant, which was well and truly taken over by the delegates.I'm sure they must love this time of year:-)

Sunday- After a convivial breakfast, I finished my packing, checked out of the hotel, and lugged my suitcase down to the venue. The 'hangover' shift was ably filled by Fiona Mauchline's : Putting The Creative Back Into Writing. This saw her use #ELTpics to great effect as she explained that her students were often lacking in imagination, so the pictures sparked necessary vocabulary for a later task. She also suggested music as way to break through the barrier, and the slides and handouts of her clever ideas are available on request.
Chuck Sandy was working with Vladimira Chalyova in the next session, called Surpr@ise, looking at surprise, praise, collaboration and support. With a series of interesting pictures asking us to debate what they could be, and a discussion about Power and Authority, we were encouraged to learn and grow in our teaching, to reach outside the box and to ask salient questions about everything- back to the awareness and reflection again:-) They asked the audience to come up with ideas for the words Learn and Grow, and then we noticed many links between the two words. This was a lovely session, with some genuine reflection on the part of the people present.
A treat was in store in the next session. This was Tyson Seburn , who had come all the way from Canada to be with us. His talk was about collaborative reading circles in Higher education. He used interesting original texts to explain how he taught his students to read efficiently. As we are all aware, our students habitually skim read, or scan the necessary information from a text. In order for the students to develop deeper  understanding of material  he suggested that they make connections to outside knowledge and draw paralells. He thought that the act of visualising the material in pictures, charts, timelines, maps,  can help to see the material in a different way. Contextual background information is also beneficial when trying to understand a difficult concept. Learning to differentiate between what is important and what can be left is necessary to become effective as a reader. Identifying main points and being able to summarise the facts for others to understand is a vert important skill. Underlying the skills is the language itself; finding collocations and lexical chunks, looking at punctuation, and discourse references too.
The closing plenary was presented by Chia Suan Chong, and was a humourous  run-through of the techniques and methodologies which have underpinned English Language Teaching for many years. She made a point of suggesting that each method contained something of merit, and that we were in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water each time we fell out of love with a method. Her idea of Principled Eclecticism was that teaching is a horses for courses kind of thing. We need to be aware of the principles underpinning these different methods, so that if/when we borrow from them, we can understand  what takes place in the classroom, according to the needs of our students. Her clip from a Japanese  English Learning programme, I have a bad case of Diarrhea ,was particularly amusing, if not exactly the most useful thing to repeat:-)
All good things must come to an end- and so it was with  the 31st Annual InternationalTesol France Colloquium. This is a very well organised conference, with the added bonus of meeting up with a large number of my PLN, and gaining some serious CPD. As the outgoing president, Bethany was tearful when she was honoured by her team.I was beginning to wriggle on my seat as I had to leave for the airport.I just had time to hug a few people before I left. If I missed anyone, it was not intentional, but more a question of geography- or- were you sitting near me ? With the exception of a few faces who were missed, partly due to the other conference taking place at the same time, and partly for a variety of other reasons, I saw a huge number of my favourite people. Roll on next year.....


Sunday, 11 November 2012

project #366 Week 45

The weather has been kinder this week. It was like the 'curate's egg' - horrible in parts! Still lots of teens in the college as it is half-term in Europe. We've been trying to get organised for our annual holiday, which requires a week to prepare for, and another week to unwind at the end:-)
Sunday 4th November 2012
Popped down to Carl's house for a Band meeting. Last year we had breakfast at St. Helier Yacht Club and our meeting took place then. This time it was easier to pop down for afternoon tea. I like Carl's house. He is an artist as well as one of our musicians, and he lives in a house with 360 degree views of the harbour and castle in Gorey. Outside his window is a lovely palm tree. It is nice to still have greenery around in the wintertime, and the other trees have been losing their leaves because of the wind. Of course, we didn't get everything done, so we'll have to go back next week :-)
Monday 5th November

Guy Fawkes NIght, although most people had actually celebrated at bonfire night parties on Saturday night, so the place was quiet.
The island was cold over the weekend, so we decided to order the winter coal, and have it in readiness. Our big coal bunker got damaged while we were decorating, which was a good excuse to buy a smaller, neater one. It was delivered today, and quickly filled with coal. Unfortunately, it isn't where I wanted it to go, and now it's too heavy to move. I'll have to wait a while before it is empty enough to shift it :-(  Note the traces of coal dust in front of the bunker...

Tuesday 6th November
I gave some of my students a lift into town on my way home, and one of them commented on the cloud formations. I really take it for granted that we have stunning clouds, so I decided to take a picture after parking the car. Sofia is right, though, they are beautiful :-)
Wednesday 7th November
I've got a student in one of my classes this week who is as mad as a hatter- nothing we do pleases her, and she thinks she is the only person in the class who counts. She has complained every day so far and my colleague and I are ready to suggest that she have private lessons! Thank goodness it's #ELTchat day- always good to take your mind off things.
When I arrived home I was not impressed to see that a cat, hopefully not one of mine, had scaled the wall, after wading through the coal dust!
Thursday 8th November
Well, nearly the end of the week. Student still grumpy- teachers miserable! No winners here! My other classes are perfect, thank goodness, but it is always the awkward one which sticks in your head, isn't it? Th trees outside are starting to look bare, and the birds nest are now visible. They are fascinating, when you look closely. I wonder who built this one.
Friday 9th November
Time to go to the hairdresser's before my holiday. She has moved from the salon round the corner to an arcade in the centre of town. It works to go on my way home from work, as I can park and walk there easily. Polly says that the arcade is a lovely place to work, as there is always something going on in the other shops . I like the fact that the florist decorates the front, drawing people in from the street. Off to the pub with the gang tonight. It will be good to catch up, although some of us will see each other tomorrow when we go back to Carl's house :-)
Saturday 10th November
View from the side window
View from the front window
Spent the morning catching up with the housework, and dug out the suitcases for next week. In the afternoon I had a coffee in the local supermarket with my girlfriend. We won't have a chance to do it for a while as I'll be in pastures new :-) This is a very long standing arrangement, so we try to meet up whenever possible. Later, I went back down to the East of the island, for our band meeting. We are going to be without our lead musician for our next ceilidh, so we had to plan who would start the tunes and how we would finish them. I took a couple of pictures out of his window- just because the view is fantastic!
Not planning on taking the cat!
Next week will be a bit shorter. I plan to blog up to Thursday, as I'm flying to London, then Paris, on Friday. After the weekend we are heading off to Valencia for a break, so  two weeks later I will be back with all the up to date information and photos.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Project#366 Week 44

This week has been miserable. The weather started cold at the beginning of the week, and has encompassed wind, heavy rain showers and hailstones as the week has progressed.

Sunday 28th October 2012
 Starting to get life back to normal now. Last nights tennerfest at the Moorings, with the musicians, was very good and tonight's dinner is Chez Nous! We went out for a walk as the weather was dry and cold and crunched through the leaves in the valley. The forecast for the rest of the week is wet and windy, so this could be the last chance before the leaves are swept up and used for leaf mould.

Monday 29th

Teaching as normal today. I have a couple of 1-2-1 classes, which is a nice way to ease me back into teaching, instead of training. The weather has turned with a vengeance! Everything is cold and wet and at our lunchtime meeting we were told that JPs funeral is to be on Thursday, so we will need to rearrange our daily teaching schedules to get the time off. Starting early and finishing late on the other days will give us a free afternoon, but the teachers of teenagers, and of quiet classes, will find the hour extra long. I haven't yet met my afternoon class so I'm reserving judgement:-)

Tuesday 30th
 I must have been saving up good things!  My afternoon class are a dream- you wind them up and they are happy to talk for hours. Even the extra hour didn't faze them! In fact they were surprised when I gently called a halt to their discussion. I hadn't found any nice flowers at the weekend- the flower stall was selling what my husband calls -cemetery flowers! You know the kind that are sold outside cemeteries in France- chrysanthemums etc. Anyway, my window was looking empty, so I popped in to the local farm shop and found some amazing oriental lilies.
When I got home I put them in a vase- and then lit the fire- two quite incongruous images, I feel!
Wednesday 31st
Halloween.The kids at the college were carving pumpkins and decorating the coffee lounge for a party. I decided to buy some sweeties in case any of the neighbourhood children came knocking on the door. I  was unable to catch the lunchtime  #eltchat due to the funny timetable, but ended up writing the summary anyway. This allowed me to upgrade my badge for #ELTchat blogger from Bronze to Silver :-). During the evening chat I spent the time getting up to answer the door to lots of costumed youngsters and gave away nearly all of the chocolates I had collected!

Thursday  1st November
All Hallows/ All Saints Day- and JPs funeral. When I got to work the mood was sombre, and all my colleagues were dressed in black, as was I. We got through our morning and then climbed into the minibus for our trip to the crematorium. Cairis and her father were waiting for me there, as were many of my colleagues' partners. The ceremony was beautiful- modern music and beautiful tributes. We were all in tears throughout the service as everyone loved JP. We were then invited by the family to the Watersplash, on the West Coast. JP was a surfer, so it was a fitting place to say goodbye. The nice thing was having a chance to catch up with so many of my ex-colleagues, some of whom had flown in specially for the occasion. The weather was grim, until the end of the afternoon, when a watery sun came out over the bay.
Friday 2nd November

Winter has arrived- not really- but Malcolm has decided to put his boat to bed for the winter. When I got home he was removing the sails from the mast, in the hallway, which fortunately is long enough for the task. His plan was to take the sails to the laundry, but one of the cats got shut in with them in the back room- and the inevitable happened! Now they need the laundry more than ever:-)
The gang are out to the pub tonight but I have things to do, so we decided not to brave the weather, and  finally curled up by the fire with a good book

Saturday 3rd November

I booked a tennerfest in the brasserie at the museum for this evening. First I have to go shopping, do some housework, write an eltchat summary, sort out my transport for TesolFrance, join the IH online conference....... phew! I also went for a walk along the sand dunes with my friend and her dogs. Housework can wait until tomorrow :-)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

#ELTchat summary: How much is teaching a performance? The implications of keeping up appearances to maintain student satisfaction

How much is teaching a performance? 
The implications of keeping up appearances to maintain student satisfaction

There was an element of indecision about Wednesday 31st October's lunchtime  #ELTchat. As the question setter was not present, those present were left to interpret the topic.

Yohimar: Today is about performance teaching. But what is it, I wonder?
Marisa_C: Are we talking about performance teaching or something else? Performance teaching as in: Teacher at centre stage prancing around being exciting
vs.  being quiet and laid back.
Marisa_C: Or, How do we balance performance teaching with quiet laid back
learner-centred moments? 
OUPELTGlobal: Are we talking performance as entertainment value in the classroom?
Marisa_C: Everyone is talking about performing in class, but is it about keeping
up appearances? Like looking professional - dress code, distance or not to Ss?
teflgeek: My interpretation of the question is balancing learner needs, wants
and expectations.
This led to the discussion going down a number of different paths.

Shaun asked how many of the teachers present were performers. The answer was: quite a few!
AlexandraKouk :Teacher as a performer- useful analysis

esolcourses and Shaunwilden suggested that we all play to the crowd from time to time.
teflgeek suggested getting to know the audience before deciding on your role. Wiktor_K said that outside work he rarely behaves the way he does in the classroom.  jo_cummins admitted that the performance adrenaline is what keeps her going on
her ‘off’ days and I feel sure that many of us can relate to that. She also mentioned
the fact that there seem to be a number of people with a drama background in teaching! teflerinha said there was an element of ‘putting on the teacher’s hat’ but that
students should be centre stage.
prese1 said that she didn’t always feel cheerful going into class, but you have to paint the smile on and get on with it. As esolcourses put it; business as usual!
teflerinha, in receipt of a Drama degree herself, thought that teaching was actually more like directing than performing. She found that accepting criticism on her performance was the biggest crossover from her drama course. Julian_LEnfant suggested that the role might be that of Conductor, which teflerinha disliked, as she thought that most of the work was done offstage, but Shaun made the point that a conductor allows individual instruments to be highlighted.  
esolcourses agreed that a performance background could help with issues of confidence. She also believes that audience participation skills are needed, as it is a difficult skill to learn to communicate with a group. teflgeek benefits from his drama classes as it helps him think about voice, posture, how to stand etc.
Julian_LEnfant: Don't we also play to our strengths? I was possibly more fun as a younger inexperienced teacher but have more substance now.  Does this mean that new teachers have the monopoly on ‘fun’ over substance, or is this an overgeneralisation?

theteacherjames was suspicious of the word ‘Performer’ and doesn’t believe it is
advisable to perform in the classroom. He looks for honesty in the classro
and thought that performance suggested the opposite. He is not against drama
techniques being used, per se, and OUPELTGlobal agreed that a good teacher needs to
perform to a certain degree, but hopes teaching goes beyond that.  
teflerinha: but it can help novice teachers to put on a persona  (even if not 'honest').  
She thought that a ‘fake it till you make it’ persona was helpful
kevchanwow thought that being warm and positive in class could mean that a teacher
is not  actually100% sincere, but that they would be being 100% professional
teflgeek said it was more about putting your game face on.
esolcourses thought James might prefer to look at it as presentation skills and
classroom management. She said that, as a drama graduate, she found that many
people adopt a 'teaching personality’. esolcourses also thought that a larger than life,
more confident version of one’s own personality would work, and not give the
impression of beingfake!
It was agreed that, provided the character was based on the real person, then rapport
would develop.
SophiaKhan4 suggested that it just meant having a teaching personality
separate from the personal one, which didn’t necessarily mean putting on a performance.
James said that his personality didn’t change and that he felt he was a better teacher
because of it.
SophiaKhan4 said that she became more ‘serious and professional’ in class.
teflerinha mentioned that she was more confident in the classroom than with
groups of people in real life.
kevchanwow suggested that, as teachers, we will be required to wear a different hat on
occasion, as we serve as the communicative model for our students.
jo_cummins noted that her teaching 'persona' is just herself on a good day!
James also worried about the performance detracting from, or becoming more
important than, the teaching.
teflgeek agreed that style over substance was to be avoided, and Shaunwilden
and esolcourses were quick to agree that those who entertain can miss the teaching
point, and an entertaining lesson does not necessarily equate to the students
learning much. theteacherjames thought that having to be ‘engaging’ all the time
seemed like a distraction to him and OUPELTGlobal thought that it was
unnecessary pressure to try to be entertaining all the time.
Yearinthelifeof: There's a difference between being a good teacher and being a good
OUPELTGlobal suggested that it might be a good idea to view the discussion in terms
of ‘performance skills’ rather than performing. michaelegriffin agreed that performance
skills are very helpful as the students are more likely to pay attention.
Pysproblems81thinks that managing 'performance' is a useful skill for a teacher – but
that doesn't mean it has to be full-on all the time. Esolcourses thinks that using
performance skills to motivate and interest students can be productive.
Julian_LEnfant: We can train and develop a teacher's teaching ability/knowledge,
but coaxing personality out of someone is soooo hard. Prese1agreed: It would be
difficult for a quiet person to be an extrovert in class.
Marisa_C noted that quiet teachers are often in a better position to get students
to participate more.
Kevchanwow: When I keep my mouth shut, but keep my heart open, students rush to
fill the space with language
Marisa_C and SophiaKhan4 agreed that different teachers achieve rapport in different
 ways and that one size doesn’t fit all.
teflgeek asked whether a teaching performance is just putting aside the detritus of the
day so that it doesn’t negatively affect ones classes. It is also a means of keeping a
professional distance such as other professions do. It is wise to remember that the  
teacher is not supposed to be the star of the show and that the students should be centre
stage. Perhaps it is just another tool for the teacher to pull out as and when needed?
OUPELTGlobal suggested that teachers should be able to perform AND teach, rather
 than OR!
kevchanwow and Shaunwilden talked about cognitive dissonance, where our feelings  
tend to align with our behaviour and that perhaps if you act warm and positive you
will actually end up feeling like that, and teflerinha agreed.
 jo_cummins said: Often I'll go into class feeling a bit rubbish but put a brave face on
and come out feeling better.
teflgeek told us that his school was popular because their lessons were more fun than
the competition.
He agreed that fun is subjective, but that he hopes his learners have fun at the same
time as learning.
It is also wise to consider the context and the type of students, as young learners are
different from EAP students.
As theteacherjames said: Context is always king in our business!
There was a bit of grumbling about the fact that some popular teachers use fun
and personality and get glowing recommendations and the support of school
directors, due to producing the ‘bums on seats’ effect.
It was mentioned that some teens are happy to avoid any real work and will happily  
settle for an easy, entertaining, lesson. Students may then unfairly measure other,
hardworking, teachers against the entertainers, not always being aware that there is
little substance to the lesson, although there are some students who are able to see
through the smokescreen, in some cases better than the DoS!
Those present were asked whether honesty in the classroom is essential, positive or
risky. The consensus was that it depends on the reason for honesty- if it is in order to
treat them as adults, then it could be beneficial. Many of the participants agreed that
it depends on how it is handled. If it is an excuse to offload your problems- then no,
 - we are a channel for learning, and our stuff can get in the way -teflerinha.
If by honesty we mean being able to admit when we don’t know something, then yes-
students are generally sympathetic.
SophiaKhan4 thought that some distance was a good thing and that it wasn’t always
a good idea to share personal information with students.
Is it okay to play devil’s advocate?
So the question is: how much of your true self do you take into the classroom?
The answer was clear; everything except our negative feelings, although it is context
and group dependent.
                         What would make up a performance skill set?
  • Advice, guidance and entertainment (if needed to fill the teaching objectives)
  • Supplying what is required for each group
  • Looking the part: wearing a suit when teaching Business English, for example
  • Knowing how to use your voice
  • The ability to command attention and get students to listen
  • Balancing teaching with student-centred time
  • Maintaining a positive attitude of good will for students to respond to
  • Managing the flow of energy in the group
  • Smiling; it makes students feel happier
  • Ability to be unruffled and laid back
  • Being principled, ethical,culturally aware and open to new ideas
                                         And then, with any luck-
                 the performance will take care of itself-
                      and the students will be satisfied