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Inspiration, professional development and catching up with colleagues: the English UK Teachers’ Conference

Published on Friday, March 24, 2017

Preparing students for a world where they are likeliest to speak English with other non-native speakers, supporting learning difficulties and classroom research were just a few of the subjects tackled at a packed English UK Teachers’ Conference.


Over 200 teachers and exhibitors attended the London event, and organiser Tom Weatherley said it showed the quality of teaching in the UK's ELT centres that so many teachers were giving up a Saturday to continuing professional development.


"We know it's difficult for centres to spare staff, and we're really pleased at the turnout, which is a great indicator of the strength and quality of our membership. It's been a great day, and I genuinely think the programme has been one of the strongest we've put together, thanks to the hard work of our team. We're really looking forward to doing even better next year," said Tom, English UK's professional services manager.


Teachers and directors of studies attending the day were enthusiastic. Vicki Craig-Arijo, DoS at the Glasgow School of English, at the conference for the "third or fourth time" said it gave her lots of ideas for teacher training courses she runs. First-timer Lisa Busby of EC in Brighton said she had come "because I like to be inspired" while colleague Cecilia Catter added: "I am really interested in CPD - I want to do the diploma and this give me new opportunities to learn." For Emily Paxton of Flying Classrooms in Norwich it was both helpful and a chance to catch up with colleagues, while Shiralee Matthews of Churchill House in Ramsgate, found the session on teaching Arab learners especially useful. "I taught in Egypt for a year - but listening to this, I was thinking oh, that's why this was happening."


For Frederique Wilding, DoS at Shane in Hastings, and teachers Charles Hobbes and Bashar Obeyed, the Teachers' Conference has become an annual outing, partly because it suits them very well to spend a Saturday on professional development. "The conference covers lots of different interests and with three of us, we go to different sessions and report back to each other. It's very well structured and organised - and the food was better than ever this year," said Frederique.


Among the most talked-about sessions this year were the opening plenary from Laura Patsko of Cambridge University Press, who wanted to encourage teachers to think about helping their students to use English in a context where 80 per cent of all interactions in the language are between non-native speakers. "Those of us working in ELT are at the centre of a shift in how English is used, defined, measured and controlled… the idea is shifting from English as a tool for native speakers to communicate with foreigners, to being used by all non-native speakers." It was being used by an enormous number of people on an unprecedented scale, she said, adding: "We should teach from the perspective that reflects the variable ways in which the language is used… so they don't panic and fall apart when they leave the classroom and realise that not everybody speaks that way." Teaching English as a lingua franca was most relevant for most learners, going into a world where it was used within a community of predominantly second language users. 


Silvana Richardson of Bell attracted a large audience for her session on using John Hattie's Visible Learning ideas in the ELT classroom.  She stressed that is was important to ensure the modus and direction of the lesson was visible to both students and teachers, and that this was vital at the planning stage, where activities were often confused with learning intentions. "What are the learning intentions? What will the students be able to do, or do better, as a result of the learning in the lesson?" she asked.


In a thought-provoking session, Simon Dunton talked about how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual issues are acknowledged - or not - in ELT classes, saying that if students cannot speak honestly it may affect their overall proficiency. Yet, he said, some teachers were only comfortable covering LGBT if it was part of the course in a textbook and if it was the material was often outdated, at higher levels, or emphasised "otherness rather than integration."


All five teachers taking part in this year's Cambridge English/English UK Action Research project presented their projects at the event, with Aida Sahutoglu of the St Giles London centre picking up the winners' trophy for her work on supporting students to independent vocabulary learning.


The day was rounded off with a well-received closing plenary from Ken Wilson, weaving insights and anecdotes around quotes from Einstein, Socrates, Elvis and others, giving delegates plenty to chat about during the Macmillan-sponsored drinks reception. 

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