Last weekend I attended the Busan-Gyeongnam KOTESOL mini-conference.
Not once did I regret the long drive from the top of the country to the bottom. The atmosphere was very friendly and welcoming and I got a chance to see a lot of people, some who were new to me and others whom I rarely see offline…. er, face-to-face.
The conference began with a keynote talk from Tim Thompson called “Close Your Books”. Tim began by confessing his teaching sins (during which time, I checked each one off in my head: teaching the book not the students – done that; not preparing for class “hey guys what page are we on” – yep, and more recently than I’d like to admit; Facebooking while the students “do” the book – yep, Tweeting too….), reinforcing the point that being tethered to a course book can have some negative consequences that are really worth considering.
Tim touched a topic that has given me much thought recently as well. What are we teaching? What do we say to the student who asks, “Why do I need to learn English?” Maybe she doesn’t need to learn it.* Tim’s approach is straightforward: we need to teach skills through English, where English is the medium rather than the content.
What skills will our students need in life? Tim offered some suggestions: public speaking, small-group discussion, academic writing, time management, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, how to set and meet goals. These skills can easily transfer to real life situations in any language and help students start to take responsibility for their own learning.
My take-away was reflective: I need to think about and also talk to my students about what they want to learn and how to achieve my, their, and the academy’s (= their parents’) immediate and future goals. I’m grateful for all the suggestions and ideas I took away from the talk and look forward to helping my students find ways to improve their life skills through English.
Memorable quotes from the talk:
“If we don’t have goals for developing skills, then we need to start asking, “What are we doing in the classroom?”
“EHP – English for Hypothetical Purposes. Let’s stop teaching this.”
The second session I attended was given by Chris Miller, “Journaling for Professional Development.” The session was mis-named in my opinion, as Chris actually presented a framework for reflection and helped participants consider how they reflect on their own classes. He also presented research by Hatton and Smith (1995) which added to my understanding of reflective practice.
jargon-heavy framework Chris presented included descriptive writing (which meant defining the moment), descriptive reflection (which meant evaluating the situation), dialogic reflection (which meant exchanging reflective journals with someone), critical reflection (which meant considering the larger context, including factors beyond your control), technical rationality (which meant making small changes in your teaching), reflection-on-action (which meant reflecting to understand your teaching after the class has ended) and reflection-in-action (which meant reflecting before reacting during a teaching moment).
The presentation was rather complex, but the explanations were pretty clear and through Chris’s guidance we talked about our strongest points (for me, descriptive reflection) and weakest points (reflection-in-action). I also decided after learning about it that dialogic reflection is something I would love to try. Any takers? ^^
My take-away from this session is that there is a lot about reflection that I don’t know and that Chris is really passionate about improving his teaching practice.
“Reflection is a work in progress.”
“Asking more questions [is important] – even if you don’t know the answers.” (following Farrell (1998))
The third and final session I attended was by Jackie Bolen, “Teaching Public Speaking and Presentations 101.” I don’t know if I’ll ever be teaching public speaking or presentations, but I figured I could probably learn something for myself at least. 🙂 Anyone who has ever seen me in front of an audience knows that I need a teacher like Jackie (and perhaps a book like “Speaking of Speech”).
And I definitely learned a lot. First of all, I noticed Jackie’s presentation skills:
- she showed the book first before beginning;
- she introduced herself and gave some of her background;
- she got the participants’ ideas before giving her own;
- she kept it simple and told stories to support her arguments;
- her speaking pace was natural and she used hand gestures and eye contact;
- her volume was appropriate to the size of the room.
I noticed these things because she was talking about teaching them to students and also because they contrasted sharply with some other presentations I’d seen.
I learned that speech has a physical message, a visual message, and a story message. I could pick and choose and adapt to the ages and levels of my own students. One thing I thought was a bit of a shame is that all the “example” speeches on the resource cd were perfect, native-speaker examples. However, Jackie also suggested TED, YouTube (a place for bad examples!), and the website Presentation Expressions as additional input.
What I took away from the presentation is a keen desire to teaching speech and presentation skills in my class – especially since it ties into what Tim said in the beginning about teaching something meaningful.
Memorable quote: “If you teach them the skills, even shy students can do it.”
As always, the most difficult part of a conference is deciding which presentations to attend, knowing I have to miss other great ones. I’m happy with my choices, but of course wish I could have seen everything. I am very glad I attended this mini-conference and kudos to all the speakers (many first-time presenters) for their courage and willingness to share their thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics.
*I approached my boss with this question a few weeks ago and she answered, “You never know where life will take you and English keeps a lot of doors open.”