SESSION SNIPPETS 

These are brief comments on sessions which are difficult to write up for one reason or another: not substantial enough to do a whole write-up on: unclear; highly practical and experiential; I didn’t understand it (!); I was too tired to understand it (!);other reasons. Please note that I’ve grouped several sessions dealing with exams in a separate document. 

Teaching Mixed Ability Classes                                                                  Vic Richardson
An enjoyable, highly practical session in which we completed a series of tasks which were graded at different levels. The materials (a listening, a dictation etc) were identical for us all, but some of us had tasks graded at Elementary levels, others at Intermediate and others at advanced. 

What was particularly interesting was how, when we came to cross-check answers and mingled in groups containing all three levels, it was the ‘Elementary’ learners who were able to assist and support the higher level learners. Te stronger students in a real classroom would need more support, and weaker ones would shine. 

Another interesting point was that we (and therefore real students) were allowed to choose our level for each task. The teacher asks: “Who wants an easy task? Who wants a medium task? Who wants a difficult task?” 

At the end of the session we were given a piece of material and in groups brainstormed as many different tasks as we could to exploit the material at different levels.

The inspiration for this session, and many of the materials, came from Julia Tice Mixed Ability Levels 1997 

Creating Games                                                                                            Andrew Wright
This session aimed to go over criteria for creating games materials. Criteria included challenge or invitation (though this criterion was not really made clear). Categories of games included : identify/describe/match/group.order/sequence/remember/create. Andrew publicized the third edition of his successful book Games for Language Learning (2006). However, on the whole the session, although entertaining, was rather disappointing. Andrew entertained but there was little that was substantial. 

Neither pussyfooting nor clobbering: giving negative feedback on teaching practice                                                                                                       Rachael Roberts
Unfortunately this session was cancelled at the last moment. So those present decided to hold a session run by ourselves. A useful discussion ensued on how to help teachers on training courses who are unable to ‘see’ that their lessons are not helping learners to learn. The main conclusions centred around getting such teachers to observe the learners and to examine their contributions to the lesson. 

Assessment of teachers in training: some perspectives                        Jenny Pugsley
Jennifer heads Trinity College TESOL Certificate and Diploma teaching awards schemes. A rather disappointing session which was ill-timed and tried to cover far too much ground in the time available. The main points to emerge (I think) were: 

  • Do current pre-service and in-service training schemes really take into accound individual teacher autonomy and creativity?
  • Think of a successful teacher whom you had as a learner, and the reasons why you think they were successful: would these criteria have helped you to evaluate her/him on a pre-service or in-service training course? 
  • Would these criteria help you in deciding whether or not to employ such a teacher?
    Interesting questions which needed more time for exploration. 

Embedding Online Activities                                                                           Pete Sharma
This session mainly aimed to demonstrate the Macmillan English Campus project, a hugely exciting project based on ‘blended learning’: the concept of combining face-to-face learning with online language learning tasks. The project consists of an immense bank of resources and is not linked to any coursebook. 

The session, however, was disappointing in that it seemed to assume that everybody in the room was aware of the project and how it works (and they weren’t: the person next to me confided that he too was lost!). the presenter was seriously disadvantaged in that the room was also overcrowded, hot and stuffy. 

Afterwards I went to the Macmillan stand and was given a clear description and demonstration of the project. It looks like a very interesting step forward in instructional technology. However, the cost may well be prohibitive for all but the largest schools or chains of schools. The school(chain) pays a licence of GBP24 per year per user – with a minimum of 1000 users 

A Syllabus for Listening                                                                         Richard Cauldwell
www.speechinaction.net

Strategies for listening (predict/listen for gist/intensive listening etc.) are OK … but they don’t contribute much. In a listening lesson, so little time is spent on listening. We need to work with the mush of sound, and rejoice in it. 

Richard demonstrated how a dictionary pronunciation key is actually a misrepresentation of what really happens in real speech. He also demonstrated that in most speech units there is a five-position pattern which contains 2 positions which have prominence. Throughout the talk (which became highly technical at several points) there was an underlying assumption that the belief that English is a stress-timed language has largely been discredited. 

Preparing for the Teaching Knowledge Test                                                  Mary Spratt
A straightforward exposition of the Cambridge TKT which can be accessed at www.cambridge.org/elt/tkt/tkt.htm The test, which is modular, and courses preparing for it are aimed at teachers with a minimum B1 level of English (pre-Intermediate/Intermediate). It is apparently doing well in South America. There was no time really for discussion, which was a pity. 

The Fun Side of Business English                                                    Marjorie Rosenburg
Lots of fun, engaging activities to use in a Business English classroom. Marjorie demonstrated some of these, although classroom management in a room of some 50 teachers was a little wobbly at times. Marjorie’s book is highly recommended for those who want to use engaging activities in which affect is a major underlying principle: In Business (CUP)

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