IH BCN Conference 2016 (5-6 Feb)

This was to be my first ever TEFL conference. One of the advantages of moving to Barcelona is it’s probably the capital of TEFL in the TEFLy-est country in the world! I arrived with a geeky mix of curiosity and excitement, wondering if I’d feel starstruck finally seeing (and meeting) some of those luminaries I’d got so familiar with on the DELTA. It was nice then to start off with Scott Thornbury’s run-through of SLA case studies, referencing Dick Schmidt, very reminiscent of DELTA input sessions.

Thornbury talks Schmidt

So what were my impressions of my first ever TEFL conference? Overall, great. It seemed for many teachers, particularly newer ones, their main motivation for coming was mining activity ideas. I managed to jot down a fair few and they’ll pop up in the activity section once I’ve tried them. I was also keen to see what constituted current trends in EFL according to IH BCN.  These stood out for me…

Technology x Student Interaction: Lindsay Clanfield’s plenary acknowledged a general call for major educational reform (various examples) and also the surge in popularity of online learning  (A massive $1.85 billion spent on edtech in the US for 2015 according to Edsurge!). He then touched on the issues of motivation and time restriction as barriers to online student participation and gave some suggestions for activities marrying student-to-student interaction with platforms like whatsapp, google hangouts e.t.c. I’ve had a few cracks at getting students interacting online through blogging/facebook/googledocs with mixed results – students forget or don’t have time, or it’s ended up being more for student submissions to me, rather than to each other, so this the struck a chord. The activities he presented were simple, engaging,’traditional’ tasks really, repurposed for an online environment. It was nice to see them done in this way and hear the success stories though. And judging by the amount of banter in my own whatsapp groups I could see students soon getting into it. For example, the ‘Almost Superpower’ (a reproduction of the slide as my iphone camera didn’t cut it)…


In this activity one person posts a superpower they would like to have. For example:

I can fly.

The next person has to make a condition to the superpower. You need to make it less powerful!! Begin with words “But you…”

But you can only fly one metre off the ground.

Then add your own superpower in the same post. Then another person does the same. Continue until everyone has posted at least one superpower. I will begin.

I can fly!


And so on.

One activity only possible with whatsapp or similar that I loved for its simplicity and silliness, entitled ’emoji weekend’, involves sending a bunch of emojis to a classmate who replies with an interpretation, nice!

One key issue that wasn’t really explored was teachers’ time restrictions. The  written instructions for this type of online participation need to be necessarily graded for level but all the same I can see confusion and questions cropping up, therefore the need to monitor these activities outside class. In my experience integrating technology inevitably involves more time and energy than you anticipate and it left me wondering, where do teachers draw the line with devoting their evenings/weekends to scaffolding/policing/correcting these types of activity? Using them in place of conventional homework perhaps could be the answer…

Troy Dagg’s followed on nicely from Clanfield’s in exploring the ways online apps can facilitate spoken fluency practice. He was nice enough to pass on a copy of his powerpoint and a link to info on the product he’s developed here which is free to use! There were also talks by Kieran Donaghy (demos of some of his lessons) and Jamie Keddie (Youtube and youth culture), so quite a lot of techy-focused stuff to digest.

The final plenary by Nicky Hockly entitled “Future Present” took on  an apolcolyptic tone, with a clip from the dystopian flick Elysium to lead in to a look at emerging technology and what forms they might take now and in future classrooms. When she played an ad for the new (free) skype live translator app I could almost hear the collective groan of a hall full of teachers realising their employable days were numbered. In all seriousness though, there were some exciting ideas to consider along with, for the time being, fairly far-flung possibilities (robot teacher? virtual reality?). One activity she talked about that I’m dying to try with my next teen group is a QR Code treasure hunt (those weird squarey phone barcodes the Japanese have been using already for years). Also I’m dying to explore the possibilities of augmented reality software such as Aurasma. If you’re not sure what that is (I wasn’t either) its when software combines with your local environment to trigger things such as audio and video recordings. Nicky gave an example of students creating book reviews in video format which play when your phone (app downloaded) scans the cover of the book. Obviously using her own book as an example, nice touch.

The second theme that kept cropping up was the return to creativity, and flipping the script. Antonia Clare, a great speaker (partly because she sneaked in a David Bowie quote), delivered a  pacy seminar on building learner confidence. It was a good refresher from a new perspective and I particularly liked the idea of adding a ‘twist’ (i.e. a distractor) to prevent students worrying about their output. This idea of a twist was echoed in Chaz Pugliese’s talk, one I was really keen to catch ever since discovering The Creativity Group last summer at a David Heathfield workshop on improv and storytelling (which incidentally was fantastic!). He had some interesting suggestions on how to keep the classroom fresh and unexpected by subverting traditional activities and the textbook, which I’ll elaborate on in the activity section when I get the chance.

The final talk I attended was Kat Robb’s presentation of an action research project she did with post-grads at Manchester University for a presentation skills course. This was completely different to any of the others I attended and stood out for me firstly as I’d just taught a 2.5 week presentation skills intensive myself so wanted to compare notes. Also, having conducted my first properly (kind of?) rigourous action research project last year I wanted to hear how she’d got on. The positive results she achieved with her reflective student practice were really encouraging. It  was awesome just to hear about another teacher having a go at some action research, although it left me with a ton of questions at the end (sorry for those wanting to get off!). I’ve become a bit obsessed with learner autonomy and this nexus between the learner- and teacher-lead lately. A few questions that popped up then…

  • How much class time is reasonable to devote to critical self- and peer-reflection vs actual input and practice? And…
  • How much do students genuinely appreciate this learner-centredness, and is the learner-training necessary to get them on the same page an appropriate use of class time, particularly on short courses?
  • Would this kind of intensive reflection work on general/extensive courses where the goals are more nebulous?
  • How can we efficiently get learners using meta-language to appraise their own performance?

I’m hoping to trial her approach on a new elective Presentation Skills course  I’ll be starting with Uni students in a couple of weeks.

So all in all a pretty fruitful day! One thing that I was quite surprised at was hearing that more than one of the talks was a repeat of a previous year’s. It being my first conference it didn’t matter but if i’d paid full price for my own ticket two years running I’d have been a bit miffed, particularly as I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d really love to have the opportunity to present.  It was very well organised though, the venue was lovely and the coffee and pastries were much appreciated on an early Saturday morning.

Looking forward to the Innovate ELT Conference in May!!!




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