IATEFL 2022 report and reflection

Some highlights from the annual IATEFL conference, which took place in Belfast on 17-20 May

The first post-pandemic 'in-person' IATEFL conference saw a slight dip in attendance figures – about 1600 delegates compared to the pre-pandemic figures of nearly 2500 attendees – but it didn't detract from the electric atmosphere, which was largely due to the ability to interact face-to-face again. Indeed, I didn't see members of my PLN for three long years! Between networking and catching up with friends and colleagues I managed to see some sessions. Here are some highlights.

In her first IATEFL presentation, the proud IATEFL scholarship winner Rachel Tsateri shared a framework for planning collaborative and reflective online lessons she had devised during the period of emergency remote teaching. She referred to the framework – or at least the main portion of it – as a jigsaw-gloss. As the name suggests, the framework combines two collaborative learning techniques: jigsaw-reading or, in this case, listening and dictogloss (read more HERE).

The framework involves students individually listening to parts of an audio recording (which Rachel has prepared herself with her colleagues) and then reconstructing the text in groups (breakout rooms). This is followed by focus on lexis, specifically chunks, after which students have an opportunity to go back to their versions and notice any differences between them and the original script. These stages were outlined using minimalist slides with simple but clear visuals, which prompted me to make some last minute changes to my own presentation. Of course, the eternal question, as Rachel admitted, is how can students retain the language they have learned?

To help Rachel improve the framework further she invited the participants to post their suggestions on social media using the hashtag #jigsawgloss. You can visit Rachel's blog The TEFL Zone: https://teflzoneracheltsateri.wordpress.com/

If Rachel's framework concerned lesson planning, Maria Davou, an edupreneur and school owner from Athens, shared a framework for language education in general called Deeper Learning. The innovative framework, which is used by Glossomatheia, a language school Maria runs in Athens, places emphasis on philosophical enquiry. At the beginning of a school year, students choose content areas they are interested in and, with the help and guidance of teachers, delve deeper into the chosen subject area throughout the year.  

A slide from Maria Davou's presentation
(apologies for the poor quality) 
Maria is an inspiring and engaging speaker, who made interesting links between ELT pedagogy and philosophy. In addition to the familiar terms such as formative/summative assessment, Maria drew upon concepts from philosophy and cognitive psychology, such as the bizarreness effect and the trolley problem, which had me reaching for Google on many an occasion. 

Encouraging the audience to rethink the role of published materials and focus on what matters – the learner and learning – Maria admitted that the first two months without any coursebook can be intimidating. She also traced how the approaches to language learning has evolved from learning through automation/drilling to learning through doing and learning through thinking.

Voting for the best sentence at Ken
Lackman's workshop. Our group's
sentence (involving the word "atrocities") won.
Yet, the seemingly old fashioned drilling was the focus of Ken Lackman's presentation at the end of Day 1. After providing a brief history of substitution drills and the reasons why they fell out of fashion, we were treated to a series of engaging group activities involving so many different variations on substitution drills that I lost count! Talking of counting, one drill, for instance, involved producing as many sentences following the same pattern as possible while the group secretary was keeping a tally. You can see all the different activities and variations in a handout, which Ken has kindly provided on his website: http://kenlackman.com (click on the IATEFL tab).

Being one of my so-called lexical buddies, Ken is naturally very much on the same page regarding what is considered a collocation in pedagogical terms - a combination of two content words. According to Ken and myself, switch off would not qualify as a collocation (although some linguists may consider it as such), but switch off the light (verb + noun) would.

It was my eighth time attending IATEFL in-person – and seventh time presenting – and I've never missed a single session Ken Lackman has given, save, perhaps, for one or two. I've come always come away with a new technique or a fresh idea.

Despite this being my seventh time presenting I can't say I didn't suffer from nerves before my presentation on Day 2 and hardly attended any sessions that day. Was it because it was my first international conference appearance in more than two years or the fact that for the first time my presentation was designated as "prodprom" (product promotion) as I was demonstrating activities from my new book? 

I resumed my attendance on Day 3. That was the day of the the BESIG showcase. Just to clarify, a showcase is a series of presentations lasting all day organised by one of IATEFL's Special Interest Groups. Opening the showcase was Ian Badger, an author of a number of popular Business English titles, with a talk on the rules of everyday business writing.

Some native speaker idioms that may lead to
breakdowns in communication
Ian showed a number of emails written by non-native and native English speaking business people. The first email exchange was between a Chinese and a German speaker of English, which was 'imperfect', with occasional grammar mistakes and lexical inappropriacies. Nevertheless these two language users successfully achieved the communicative goal and the goods were dispatched on time avoiding the demurrage (a new word for me and many other members of the audience) fees. Ian then focused on – or rather gently poked fun at – three emails written by native English speakers. One was criticised for being too short, the other for being too long-winded. The main beef, however, seemed to be the phrase "greetings from a chilly Manchester" closing an otherwise formal email, which I thought would be perfectly acceptable and even welcome in some cultural contexts. The key takeaway, it seems, was that it is the the native English speakers who should (re)learn English! 

The tips Ian gave included keeping emails short and snappy – because emails are often read on phones these days – and avoiding idioms. I wonder if Julie Moore, who was speaking next door on the role of idioms in ELT, had the same message to convey. Unfortunately hers was among many talks and workshops I couldn't make it to during these three very hectic days. 

Did you go to any of the sessions I've mentioned? What sessions did you go to? What were they like? Finally, if you didn't go to IATEFL, would you consider attending next year? Please share in the comments below.