Retezat Mountains in the Carpathians

Retezat Mountains in the Carpathians
Retezat Mountains landscape (taken by my daughter Laura and my husband Victor)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Report on The 33rd Annual TESOL Convention, Lleida, Spain "Building Bridges: New Competences in the EFL Classroom”

The 33rd Annual TESOL-Spain Convention took place on March 12-14th in the ancient town of Lleida, the west of Catalunia, Spain. The University of Lleida, the third oldest university of Spain, founded in 1297, was the hospitable and welcoming host for 128 international presenters including Plenary and Keynote sessions, and hundreds of participants from all over the world.
Convention Theme:
Within such a dynamic and ever-changing world, where mobility is a must and cultural diversity a reality, it becomes increasingly important to foster global competence in English, thus enabling the learner to successfully build bridges between these emerging realities. Therefore, the 2010 TESOL Spain convention theme focused on the concept of acquiring new competences in the EFL classroom:
The implementation of competence-based approaches in English language education goes beyond the promotion of communicative competence to include a wider array of personal, intercultural, professional as well as linguistic competences that will help individuals cope with their most immediate surroundings as new circumstances and challenges emerge time and time again.
The plenaries, held by seminal professionals, represented the convention highlights. Dr. Neus Figueras presented aspects of reconceptualizing assessment practices according to CEFR. Paul Seligson had a highly practical session that offered loads of simple remedies, techniques, and activities to help teachers fully engage with, teach and improve the four skills: “say half”, “reflect”, be a “video, radio, slowly, etc. teacher”, to meniton just a few. Luke Prodromou’s session reported on research into what good language teachers do, think and believe, looking at some fascinating insights into the role of experience, formative influences, interaction and classroom management.
The convention brought together expertise in English language education not only from Spain but from all over the world. There was so much to choose from. Each day posed a challenging choice for participants as 2 keynotes were scheduled alongside several other extremely important and promising presentations and I found myself torn between anything up to two or three other presentations absolutely worthwhile attending but at the same time forcing myself to be disciplined and obey to the initially expressed choices and interest in IT-based teaching and learning.
Largely, the presentations focused on teaching to adult learners, Business English, English for Specific Purposes- (tourism, administration, journalism), employment of the New Technologies, exploitation of visuals as well as circus skills, music and mime in order to enhance skills and motivate the learners.
As expected, most presentations were interactive and practical, offering hands-on models of bridging the gap from more traditional approaches in order to ensure an effective learning environment, examples of best practices that can be adopted and adapted to different levels and learning styles.
Topics targeting the teachers’ acquisition and exploitation of digital competences in order to enrich and enhance their students’ learning experiences and move the formation and consolidation of the basic skills into the XXIst century featured high on the programme list.
I had the wonderful chance to meet Graham Stanley from the British Council of Barcelona, whom I had known virtually from the Webheads and BAW09/10 online workshops. He presented two projects taking place in the 3D environment of Second Life, i.e. exploring best practices using virtual worlds. Nicky Hockly from Consultants-E made a very warm and inspiring presentation on Net Advantage: Using ICT in the Classroom. She presented Dvolver movie maker, ‘Time capsules’ with, Internet sites providing interesting facts ( or odd images ( ) that can be explored creatively by teachers in their endeavour to find memorable and effective pathways towards enhanced, motivating and authentic language communication for their students.
Russell Stannard, known to us from chose to focus on some popular and fun to use Web 2.0 tools that can be integrated into language teaching, a presentation which I unfortunately missed, having my own presentation in the same time slot(such an unfair competition!). However, we had the chance to change a few impressions on teaching with technology and talk about mutual interests and acquaintances over a late cup of tea together with a group of friends.
My presentation on Effective Bridging with Social Networking Speaking Tools (co-author dr. Susana Gomez Martinez) offered details about VoxoPop and VoiceThread, two Web 2.0 voice tools that can help raise the students’ confidence in their speaking. Practical examples showed how they can be adapted in order to extend EFL use and exposure, accomodate different levels of proficiency, promote student centeredness and enhance motivation.

Karenne Sylvester, from Kalinago English presented the advantages of Ning - a social-networking platform for language teaching and personal development, whereas Jamie Keddie, founder of TEFLclips, argued about original classroom activities which require some fundamental, yet often neglected teacher speaking skills.
Other presentations looked at what learners should be learning in relation to the ‘soft’ skills that are vital to all areas of our students’ lives, both inside
and outside the classroom or offered new ideas about incorporating ICT in EFL teaching: recycling and creating exercises with Hot Potatoes, exploring the Moodle platform for online learning, using social bookmarking and collaborative blog writing, employing digital images critically and creatively, using Audacity to create inciting listening practice, making a Portable Interactive Whiteboard. Underlying pedagogical models were discussed in a presentation connected to Wiki-supported materials and activities. Elspeth Pollock presented practical ways and strategies of personalising technology for: getting to know each other with Wordle, Wikipedia, VoiceThread; vocabulary: Free Mindmaps, Wordsoup, IWB vocabulary ladders, Windows Movie Maker, and Word Magnets; authentic materials from: Babelfish, YouTube, Phrasr.
Two more workshops that I attended, the former on Friday afternoon by Catherine Morley on Speaking as a Skill and the latter on Sunday morning by Ceri Jones on Practical Grammar Activities deserve special mentioning. Catherine had us practise in groups or with a partner describing (a real/fictional room), using functional language for complementing, refusing politely, complaining, while offering us a wide range of speaking activities starting from Bingo and mini-warmers to more complex “pyramid discussions”. Ceri’s activities, again in a very interactive and student-centered way, demonstrated how texts can be brought to life and used as a springboard for focused language study and practice, more precisely with examples on the passive voice and verbs +to inf/-ing.
In the field of teacher education ideas and models as well as activities which help teachers develop and rise to the challenges in pre- and in-service EFL and CLIL were presented.
The experience of the Autonomous University of Barcelona focused on adapting classroom practice to senior learners - retired people returning to the classroom after a long gap – a project that has been running for four years with special attention being given to adapting methodology to their special needs as older learners. Like adult business English, tourism and journalism students, senior learners may require learning events that are different to a great extent in design and content from those provided for younger learners.

We danced, sang, role-played and wore masks, putting ourselves in the characters’ but most importantly in our students’ shoes, thus striving to optimize their language learning experiences, to make classes and materials more enjoyable, age appropriate and successful.
There was plenty to take back home as the conference offered a varied programme with a great mix of topics, inspiring ideas. Apart from the wealth of presentations, the convention provided opportunities to job hunt, swap materials, browse through the latest publications at the Publishers’ Exhibition, socialize and network during the coffee breaks, the opening Cocktail on Friday night, and the Saturday dinner. Attending a TESOL international convention for the first time was a uniquely rewarding and gratifying experience that crystallizes and amplifies only after the ideas and practical suggestions acquired during the three exciting and fully-packed days begin to be filtered and applied

I am grateful to Grundtvig-LLP and the Romanian National Agency (ANPCDEFP) for offering me the grant to attend this world-wide famous event in the field of English Teaching, to learn about best practices and successful models as well as obtain feed-back on my own practice and research in teaching with the new technologies, to meet face-to face distinguished scholars and specialists in TESOL, whose inspiring ideas have been influencing my professional life in so many ways: Graham Stanley, Russell Stannard, Jamie Keddie, Nicky Hockley, Karenne Sylvester. I had the chance to enlarge my circle of international contacts, meeting Hilary Plass, TESOL Spain President, Gillian Evans from TESOL France and Igor Gavilan TESOL Spain, to strengthen former friendship bonds with Susana Gomez Martinez with whom I have collaborated on research projects, to make initial contacts that may conduct to future Erasmus cooperation, or to chancely meet a Twitter and Talk-box-virtual friend Guido from Seville. All these made TESOL Spain Convention a memorable, inspiring and enriching experience and will certainly have a profound impact on my teaching and therefore on my students.

Report - First Time Besig-er: BESIG2009 in Poznan, Poland – November 20-22, 2009

Although initially apprehensive to make my entrance into a well-established long-standing community, being a first time Besig-er turned out to be a uniquely rewarding and gratifying experience that crystallizes and amplifies only after the ideas and practical suggestions acquired during the three exciting and fully-packed days begin to be filtered and applied. I have been a Besig yahoogroup member for several years now, theoretically knowing the most important and frequent names, yet actually meeting face to face with people whom I have followed on discussion lists or on blogs like Heike Philp, Holly Longstroth and Karenne Sylvester, Pete Sharma, or Ian McMaster, is one of the most powerful, memorable and bond-consolidating feelings.
Getting to Poznan took an excruciating whole night’s drive and half a day’s (cancelled and re-distributed) flight, an experience that has barely left me and my other two colleagues from Romania with just a couple of hours on Friday afternoon for a walking tour of the ancient Poznan before the evening Opening ceremony, Official welcome and Reception.
Saturday started early with the plenary session by the seminal writer, teacher and teacher trainer Vicki Hollett. For me, as I am positive for all of the other attendees, Relationships Matter represented the highlight, a talk that energised the audience– an eloquent plea for the awareness that politeness is culturally-bound and that the speech acts and interpersonal language we employ are crucial for cooperative communication. I have learnt that it is not just grammar and vocabulary we have to teach our students, rather we should point ambiguity and vagueness so that they grasp the intentions that lie behind the words in order to form good relations and good people skills. Quite frequently, we do not say what we mean but for different reasons such as politeness, desire to be more likeable, protection, and enhancement of ourselves, we may choose to be indirect, ambiguous, tentative or vague.
It was an inspiring, persuasive and motivating course worth the maximum number of Euro-credits of professional development! Henceforth, to the question I often ask my students in class: Have you ever met a famous person? I’ll be nodding, pointing to the author of their Business Objectives course-books.
After delivering my own presentation on Text and Voice Tools to Maximize Our Students’ Writing and Talking time, the next session to attend was Heike Philp and Holly Longstroth’s joint presentation (B1 5 ) Virtual Immersion and the Challenge of Teaching in Second Life, a very friendly incursion into their teaching English in the unfathomed yet potentially-rich virtual territory of Second Life, through the experimental AVALON EU-funded project. The presentation emphasized the great potential of virtual worlds for language education, which unfortunately remains largely unused due to lack of proper training of trainers, partial experience with real students and technical issues.
I particularly enjoyed Marjorie Rosenberg - currently joint Besig coordinator after this year’s final elections - who gave a warm and interactive workshop on Lively activities for Business English Classes. I appreciated the activities that we have tried out in pairs or groups as a real eye-opener, ranging from simple things we can do in class for recycling and reinforcing vocabulary in speaking and writing, such as Bingo and card collocations, to describing graphs and interpreting graph trends, everything unfolding in real class semblance, under our teacher’s sustained reassurance and involvement, invitation to reflection, emulation and engagement. The workshop provided further useful tips for more complex, tailor-made activities such as planning a business trip or selling an item in the classroom, meanwhile consolidating my creed that what is interactive and practical works best.
Viola Mercedes, whom I had encountered during my peregrinations with the Webheads in Action, made the presentation entitled Using authentic materials and new technologies to enrich your training session and it was delivered entirely online from distant Uruguay with Carl Dowse’s local technical assistance. She entertained the importance of story-telling for business and how this can be managed in Windows Live spaces. I have furthermore realized how sustainable and far-reaching the reverberations of a local event such as the BESIG conference could become worldwide through employment of technology-based delivery.
I greatly appreciated the last E2 Saturday session by Genevieve Besser, just before the BESIG Annual General Meeting. For me it meant hands-on experience for creating quizzes, clozes, crosswords, jumbled sentences, matching exercises and whole teaching units with ‘Hot Potatoes’ which can be eventually either printed and used as class handouts, sent by email, or uploaded on the Internet for permanent and transparent access. The workshop has additionally reinforced the valuable message that working with small groups acts as sharing, expression, and cohesion aggregator, and so I left the session richer by two new like-minded friends.
The next Sunday morning sessions were delivered by the teacher, teacher trainer and AISLI consultant Julie Wallis from Italy and Philip Gienandt from LinguaTV Berlin, respectively. The former raised the issue of the ever increasing pressure that teachers face to use modern technology, which translates into the need for fast solutions to create materials and resources in order to meet the customers’ needs. We created a funny film together and Julie demonstrated the potential offered by other writing and talking tools such as wikis, Audacity,, etc. The ease of use of the presented tools as well as the adage Julie quoted to support the tool’s simplicity “if you can type you can create a movie” ( kept echoing in my mind during the last panel discussion. Philip Gienandt’s presentation concentrated on the superiority of employing videos for language teaching as they ‘tell more than a thousand words’, are authentic and entertaining. We were demonstrated how LinguaTV adapted videos to include flexible learning, innovative but proven and easy to use Web 2.0 practice.
For me the final panel discussion (Vicki Hollett, Cleve Miller, Ian McMaster, Petra Pointer, Shiv Rajendran, Byron Russell and Eric Baber) How will they be learning? How will we be teaching? represented the cherry on the cake, a high-note ending to the conference not only because I could find out certified opinions on adding value to lessons versus proving a healthy scepticism in adopting technology-based learning, but because it turned out to be a hectic brainstorming session, a genuine exchange of pertinent opinions involving the audience.
Discussions oscillated between “Teaching with technology is not an easy thing to do well” as one of the participants quoted in the beginning, and visionaries’ envisaging how technology-based teaching and learning are going to develop. Panelists and participants alike argued fervently either in favour of a careful use of technology in the classroom, the classroom as a place for human interaction and the classroom-based learner, or at the other end of the tether, for personalized materials, user-generated content, technology enrichment and enhancement, anything in the name of the student-customer’s needs and wants. At one moment Eric Baber, Skyped in from England and who precisely due to the much-worshipped-and-equally-discredited technology was projecting a commanding presence in the room, intervened with a witty Henry Ford quotation “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse” which made the audience laugh as did Pete Sharma’s equally adequate exemplification of things we can well do in Second but not in Real Life such as men and women being able to exchange their clothes, besides the marvellous ability to build a hotel without spending a penny, or to communicate asynchronously and develop language as well as reflective skills.
I appreciated this final heated discussion as it reinforced my conviction that I should continue to do what I have done in the field of applying technology in BE language teaching but also to aim higher and continually adapt to the students’ needs.
Besig was different from other international events that I have attended through the participants’ concerted interest, interactive presentations and practical applications rather than research for research’s sake, as well as through extension of socializing evening sessions in local Poznan restaurants, which unfortunately I missed due to being ‘technically’ overwhelmed.
There was plenty to take back home as the conference offered a varied programme with a great mix of topics, inspiring ideas, opportunities to befriend and network. My only regret is that there was so much to choose from and I found myself torn between anything up to two or three other presentations absolutely worthwhile attending but at the same time forcing myself to be disciplined and obey to the initially expressed choices and interest in IT-based teaching and learning.
I left Poznan and the cozy NH hotel somehow frustrated that it ended so quickly only to embark on my return adventure of another cancelled flight and a memorable night spent in five-star Warsaw Marriott Hotel for which I am deeply grateful to LOT and the foggy November Besig time.
In the end, my heartfelt gratitude goes to the Besig Committee for the Besig grant that has made my attendance, presentation and writing of this report possible, to Wolfgang Ridder for his placid unmitigated assistance and to all the Besig-ers including the hospitable and dedicated organizes and student helpers who, like small grains of sand, brought their precious contribution to the success of the Besig pearl.