Two days of learner-focused, teacher-led talks in sunny Barcelona with craft beer and tapas, not to mention lots and lots of learning!
Innovate ELT 2017 has sadly been and gone. It was a fantastic experience where I got to meet fantastic teachers, editors and trainers from around the world and I learnt so much. So, I thought I’d better organise my takeaways into a blog post to share with you all and also to hold myself accountable for the actions I said I’d do.
The speakers were wide and varied, from learner to teacher to trainer to publishers but I’m going to try and pick out the key themes from the talks I visited.
Why aren’t we getting more feedback from our students? Are we scared we’ll find out we’re no more than tennis coaches without the suntan? (fantastic line from Duncan Foord) These were key questions at this iELT and let’s be honest, how often do you ask your students for feedback? For me, I know it’s not hardly as much as I should.
It was great to hear feedback from learners’ perspectives in the plenaries, noting that each student needs a different kind of teacher and that it’s the ones who inspire and really help and, above all, observe who really make lasting impressions on their students. The stories of their wonderful and not-so-wonderful teachers were inspiring. So let’s not be afraid of what students will say, and ask them for feedback on what we’ve done during the year.
A big part of the conference was explaining the concept of mentoring applied to English language learning. Talks by the inspiring polyglot Lydia Machová and the equally inspiring Claire Venables were truly inspiring and led to me deeply questioning how I could teach my students better and show them how to learn a language through massive input and enjoyable activities, not only teach them what they need to know about grammar and vocabulary and exam tips.
Seeing case studies of students who had stepped up, brought together a group of like-minded individuals to keep them on track and accountable in their language learning was a thought-provoking experience. We all know peer learning is helpful to students but this was at another level and achieving results in faster time frames.
Whiteboards (not smartboards)
Non-digital whiteboards feature heavily in my current classroom environment and as such I jumped at the chance to catch Amy Blanchard’s talk on how to better utilise them. I put the vocabulary column into action straight away in my classes and not only do the kids find it useful but also I’ve found it gives us an extra round-up/cooler activity to do at the end of class by reviewing what’s come up during the lesson. Many other ideas like lesson menus and different coloured whiteboard pens to highlight word stress and divisible phrasal verbs will be put into action at the start of the next academic year.
Another big takeaway from this session was the #ELTwhiteboard for Twitter. If you have Twitter, and even if you don’t, go to the site and search for the hashtag #ELTwhiteboard. You get to see loads of ELT whiteboards from around the world which is highly inspiring. Just the other day, I used an idea I’d seen to present “I wish/If only” to my B2 students which the kids loved!
There was a fab session by Elena Peresada on gamification and its use within the classroom to generate intrinsic motivation and learning. I’m a strong believer in mixing up standard lesson features with games and I’ve seen the benefit myself in my first year B2 class (going from 1-2/8 to 6-7/8 in their word formation scores). Elena’s talk was fascinating, showing me new ways to up my game (pardon the pun) in my classes on a daily basis.
Digital tools for Cambridge exams
There were several sessions on digital tools for Cambridge exams (with a rather large focus on Write & Improve) but the session I attend, run by Kat Robb, was highly informative even though I have a non-digital classroom. Finding out about apps my students could use in their free time to play their way to better English was fab as hopefully it will make studying more appealing to them. I especially loved the sound of Quiz Your English and Cambridge English F.C. and I’m going to check them out before the next academic year starts so that I can let my students know about the best way to use them.
And last but by no means least: reading!
I’m a huge advocate of reading and I’ve seen the transformative effects for myself from starting and running the book club at my current workplace, so Ben Nazer‘s reading session was a must-see for me. And I was not let down. The chance to observe a reading lesson from a pro was a fantastic opportunity to improve my own techniques.
Seeing the students have a range of choice and reading material while still staying on-topic was amazing. Ben gave students a choice of 2 or 3 pre-reading activities and 2 or 3 post-reading activities, a selection of reading pieces (all on the topic of UN Days) and let them get on with it, shaping their own learning, choosing what they felt most comfortable with, in small groups. The students enjoyed it, were engaged the whole time and most of all, Ben spoke very little. I reckon my biggest lesson from there was that I need to shut up more.
Learning, networking, a fantastic location and inspiring chats, I’ll be heading to next year’s Innovate ELT conference – will I see you there?
Don’t want to miss out on next year’s conference? Favourite innovateelt.com or sign up to their email list to not miss out – believe me, you really don’t want to.
Note: I had the opportunity to attend this conference thanks to a scholarship from Cambridge English.