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.....



  1. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to meet face to face here, even though, as you mention, with so man y great PLN around, it was challenging to spend quality time with everyone.

    Thank you so much for coming to my session, Sue! I'm glad that you got from it what I intended. Can I make one small request though? My last name does not have a 't'. That (@seburnt) is the T for Tyson at the end. ;)

    I very much look forward to talking with you more individually now and hope to meet again soon!

  2. I really enjoyed meeting you and your lovely partner in Paris. I very much enjoyed your session, and will be able to use some of your ideas at once, as I have a class of academic students starting in the new year. Hope that we get a chance to meet up again. Never say never:-) At the very least we will stay in touch online.

    1. Awesome. Do let me know how ARC goes for you. Always interested in feedback. :)

  3. Brillian! Great! Fab!
    It's wonderful to read about the sessions I wasn't able to go to, and be reminded of the ones I did. I've just been listening to Krashen in Istanbul, and I who never blog, actually put my notes online

    I am so pleased to read your account of TESOL France I feel I can "pay it forward" just a little for once :-)

    1. Yes. It helps me remember, and offers a little look at sessions that you didn't go to. I've enjoyed all the other reviews for the same reason :-) I tried to comment on your blog, but it wouldn't let me:-( It sounds like I missed a great conference. I would love to have heard Krashen speak!

    2. Agreed. I've tried several times to comment on yours, Elizabeth, but no go. Posterous hates us.

  4. Thanks for sharing this post.Taking admission in graduate programs in TESOL opens up many job opportunities to those who want to take their English teaching careers to the next level.