Iatefl Blues, yellows and greens. And a sense of direction.

Blues, Yellows and Greens... Pick your color! (Photo by Max A Mauchline on ELTPics - CC license)

Another Annual IATEFL Conference has come to an end.

An intense week of attending presentations, checking out what new books and resources there are in the market, meeting old friends, making new ones, discussing teaching and teacher development. It’s so intense and you get such an adrenalin rush from all of it that it is inevitable to feel a bit blue afterwards.

The venue was excellent – even if a bit far from the city (just a 15-minute walk, but with the programme, there isn’t enough time to go eat something in the city centre and go back in time for the next session). Good rooms, well located exhibition, plenty of places to sit down and meet people. I do, however, think two things didn’t work as well as they could – and I know I echo what some of the other people, who have posted reflections about the conference, in what I am about to say. The first is that some of the talks I wanted to attend were in small rooms (and I do realise some of the presenters specifically requested a limited number of seats, but that was not always the case) and by the time I got to those rooms, there were no more seats. Because of health and safety regulations, we couldn’t sit on the floor or stand on the back. I know it is difficult to predict who will have a large number of people turn up for their talk and who won’t, but it doesn’t stop being frustrating. The second is that the venue being somewhat far from the city centre made lunch time complicated (long lines in the places at the venue, or missing the first afternoon session if you decided to eat at the Bistro there). Maybe I was badly spoiled in Brighton last year, where there were many options around the venue. It also represented a problem at the end of the day, when a large number of people got out at the same time and tried to find a taxi to go back to the hotels or to one of the evening events. I understand there isn’t much the coordinating committee can do about them, but those were the two things I felt that could have been better. That is the yellow (making an analogy with traffic lights, I guess) part.

On to the greenMy overall conference experience this year was even better than last year’s. Maybe I got luckier at choosing the sessions I attended, going to sessions that were more relevant and meaningful to me. I also think there is a little of what Adam Simpson says on his A Tale of Two Conferences (part two) post: being involved in sharing and connecting through social media and being involved in the ELT blogosphere (reading and writing in them) changes your conference experience. And not only for the people you meet – first virtually and then in person. More importantly, having a PLN and being active on Twitter and reading people’s blogs has given me a better sense of what people are involved in, what they do, their views on teaching. It broadens your horizon. So now when I go to a conference I recognise many of the names in the programme, either because I interact with them virtually already, or because I have read about them in other people’s blogs. Whether that is the reason or not, my experiences at conferences ever since have been much better, I have taken much more from them.

Instead of blogging about the sessions I went to – especially because other people do a much better job at it – I decided to talk about a great, motivating feeling I got at the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow. A feeling that struck me on the very first day and it continued on during the week. A feeling that has made me very happy. It is a distinct feeling of a common topic and way of thinking among many of the presenters and participants. It gave me a sense of the direction I believe (and sincerely hope) ELT is going towards.

Which way are we going? Finally a sense of direction! (image by @Cgoodey - ELTPics on Flickr, CC License)

This “sense of direction” started taking shape after I attended Anthony Gaughan’s session “The Seven Deadly Sins of ELT” (which by the way was a session many people I know tried getting in and couldn’t, for it was full already). In his talk Anthony challenges many of the practices considered “sins” in the ELT classroom – especially after the communicative approach – and made us reflect upon benefits from using them in certain situations and for the right purposes (At this point I am thinking I’m going straight to ELT hell for all I have sinned!). Among the sins are repetition drilling, translation, L1, teacher explanations and telling your students they are wrong – as opposed to recasting. You could hear the sighs of relief across the room!!! The truth is, so many of us (I wouldn’t dare say all of us, but the thought did cross my mind ;-)) already think that way and do those things in class, but many do it hoping no one finds out. The majority of those who do it certainly won’t do it if/when being observed by a DoS or another teacher. Because we have been told over and over not to. Because those techniques are old. They’re not communicative. But, as Anthony asked himself: “Does everything have to have communicative value?”. Personally, I think communication is the end, where we want our students to get, but not necessarily the ideal means in every moment of the class. Any extreme is usually flawed. Anthony’s session was filled with questioning and ideas of how / why to use those techniques.

In the afternoon, that same day, I went to Jim Scrivener’s “A Proposal for Active Interventionist Teaching”. Jim says the communicative approach has settled down into a safe, peaceful dead-end, and it isn’t leading to very much learning. While I don’t entirely agree with Jim that we are in a dead-end (after all, not all of us are limited by it, even if no openly. Much has been done and progressed), I could relate to it – and it resonated so closely to what Anthony had said in the morning. He questioned the label of teachers as ‘facilitators’, as passive people standing on the back guiding students into developing their own learning. He stated that it is an active, creative, shaping role – not an abdicating one. He reflected upon the amount of empty praising there is going on in classrooms around the world and whether it really is effective. He suggested real, effective feedback as more efficient tools. Just as Anthony, he said problems have to be pointed out to students and that teachers have to cease being scared of hurting the students’ feelings. We should not be mean or rude – by all means! His point was that we can’t be overly afraid. We have to give teachers permission to teach again.

Those were just the two first sessions that gave me the sense of direction I mentioned. Throughout the rest of the week other sessions steered in that direction as well. If last year I felt the conference was about technology and tools to use with students, this year, for me the conference was about stopping on our tracks for a bit, assessing, reflecting and evaluating what really is working and what isn’t in the way we are expected / supposed to teach these days. We have to use some critical thinking (which we talk so much about teaching to our students – it’s time we use it as well!) and be honest about it. And make any necessary changes, adapting and personalisation needed without being afraid. We are the experts in class. We should be allowed to teach and decide which technique or activity will be more effective with each learner / group of learners in different moments. Effective teaching, as far as I am concerned and have noticed over the many years I have been teaching, is not black and white. There is no absolute truth, or a right and a wrong way of doing it. There are uncountable shades of gray, because teachers are different, students are different, needs and learning styles are different… And the teacher should be allowed to decide what works best for his/her learners and groups without being judged by it.

The conference in Glasgow was great for many reasons. But the one thing that gave me a breath of fresh air and motivation to go back to the classroom and do my job was the feeling that we are slowing demanding (as teachers) and giving (as students, DoS and “thinkers”) teaching back to teachers. And that feels good.

I guess I won’t be going to hell anymore, after all 😉


26 comments on “Iatefl Blues, yellows and greens. And a sense of direction.

  1. Adam Simpson says:

    A fantastic write up which echoes a lot of what I felt about the conference. I was also in Anthony’s presentation and it really did seem to set the tone for things to come.

    Thanks for the mention of my blog post and also for taking things in a similar direction. I used to write about the things I’d seen at conferences, but now it’s just seems more meaningful to describe the experiences you had and how it affected you as a person.

    Enjoyed reading this, as usual on your blog 😉

    • Hi Adam,

      I have a feeling this is what many of the people who were at the conference felt. More importantly, I think it echoes what so many teachers around the world have been feeling – an urge to scream to “The ones who make the rules”: Please let me teach as I think it will be more effective! I think many of us have been feeling bound by DOs and DON’Ts that have been established as what “good teaching” is.

      You’re very welcome for the mention – we really have similar views on most things (great minds and all, eh?) and that only makes sharing and interacting more fun and enriching, I think. Not to mention the joy of finally giving you a hug and meeting you face to face! 🙂

      Thanks for the feedback. And until the next time we meet, see you in the virtual world!

  2. Marisa Pavan says:

    Hi Ceci!

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience in Glasgow. It’s good to knoe what the views and news in the teaching world are. It’s a way of making the ones, like me, who could be there feel in a way updated .

    • Hi Marisa!

      Sharing what I felt was the biggest benefit of attending IATEFL was my pleasure :-). For obvious (and sometimes not so obvious) reasons, we can’t be in all the conferences we would have liked to. Thanks to the internet, social media and the blogosphere we have ways of bridging that gap. As so many other have said in their posts for this IATEFL (and before it as well) tweeting from conferences and blog posts from the people who attend the conferences, with accounts of the sessions, their perceptions and reflections drawn from them are a great way to keep up with what is being said and discussed in our field. While some people frown upon it, I find that when I can’t attend a conference reading about it through other people’s eyes (people that I know share my views and beliefs about teaching) helps. And as you said it, helps me keep updated.

      I’m happy you found the post useful.
      Hugs and kisses!


      • marisapavan says:

        I couldn’t agree more, Ceci! That’s one of the benefits of technology. It helps us to be in places through the others even when physically one is in another place. It makes the world closer and facilitates our interaction.


      • Exactly, sis! 🙂 Meeting like-minded people… that’s the biggest asset of internet and the PLN for me.

  3. It’s about time teachers were more vocal (in sessions or even starting on their blogs) about the real classroom situation as well as the one they aim to work towards. Many times what we really do and parts of our teaching style don’t adhere to the communicative approach and that’s because we don’t feel it encompasses alternatives that are also useful, albeit unpopular. There are plenty of times I’ve wondered whether, with this facilitator non-sense, that students could probably figure out how to do the work of the classroom without me. I’m a teacher and I have some control and it’s better this way. Students expect me to lead them. I am trained to do so.

    Mini rant over. =) Great post lovely.

    • Hi Ty!

      I welcome your ‘mini rant’ with wide-open arms! From the feedback I have been getting, it seems the feeling is common to everybody – or at least to most of the teachers using the blogosphere / twitter for PD. Sadly, I can’t say I am surprised. I just hope management also sees it, and that we are truly moving towards changing this. As you said, we are the ones trained to teach. We are the ones who are best equipped to identifying learners’ needs and addressing them. But we need to be allowed to teach. Our learners want that as well. I really hope we’re on to something.

      Thanks for the feedback. It sure felt great to put it in writing. Almost as good as listening to Jim Scrivener and Jeremy Harmer saying it in person… 🙂

  4. Hi Cecilia,

    Thanks for this great general overview….really loved your post.
    Have to say my thoughts echo yours exactly. I wonder if it is because our teaching context is quite similar or because we sort of followed the same conference programme track..or because there was indeed this underlying deep pedagogical questioning which I think surfaced in so many presentations in one way or the other this year. Yes, like you I also felt a greater sense of direction this year…
    Loved the colour analogy.


    • Hi Valeria,

      I believe our similar teaching contexts are part of the reason why what I said resonates to you. But given the feedback I’ve been getting from teachers all over the world, I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s generalized. Teachers are teachers for a reason. Portuguese, history, physics teachers are not ‘facilitators’, so why should language teachers be? But, as you said, it’s great and empowering to feel the deep pedagogical questioning in a conference of the magnitude of IATEFL. The way I see it, it means we really are moving towards a change of values and beliefs. Amen!

      Happy you like the color analogy. The title came first… I figured out how to fit it with what I wanted to say as I was writing.



  5. Ronaldo says:

    Hi Cecília,

    Thanks for the great post! This was my first IATEFL and my first impression was excellent. As we talked during the conference, I felt the presentations were extremely applicable to our EFL teaching context here in Brazil. Hope I can attend some other IATEFLs….


    • Hi Ronaldo!

      The post was long overdue… people who talked to me about the conference while I was there were able to see how excited I was to see the subtle(?) sense/feeling of change, of hoping for it 🙂 But as you know, getting back mid-semester takes some catching up to do! I was glad we got to meet and talk some and share views… And I hope we both can attend other IATEFLs. I have sure learned from the 2 I have been to 🙂

      See you in Liverpool!

  6. isabelavb says:

    It was my first IATEFL and I had a great first impression of the conference. I don’t think I had the same sense of direction you did, though, because I was looking for too many things and interested in too many topics: elearning, learner autonomy, management and leadership, teacher development. I wanted to see a little bit of everything. I think next time I’ll focus on one or two content areas. Anyway, I didn’t attend Gaughan’s session, but I was in Scrivener’s and was truly relieved to hear him urge us to go back to being teachers, not just facilitators of entertainment, ever too afraid to say no to students or to say they are wrong. I’ve always believed in corrective feedback, a little bit of drilling, and focus on form, of course always within a communicative context. I remember feeling the same way in a past TESOL colloquium with Celce-Murcia, Michael Swan and Keith Folse arguing that yes, people do need to learn grammar, even within a communicative framework. They were applauded by the audience.
    Anyway, thank you for your wonderful post. It was nice to see you in Glasgow. I hope to see you soon. Why don’t you consider coming to our TEFL Seminar on July 23 and 24?

    • Hi Isabela!

      I am glad you had such a good first experience at IATEFL, but at the same time I could relate to what you said about looking for too many things at the same time :-)) I am torn at certain time slots – even though I always focus on 2 (or 3 ;-))) content areas. But the whole sense we seem to be moving to a more balanced, confidence-in-the-teacher direction we’re taking – exciting, right?

      It was wonderful seeing you again, this time in Glasgow. I’d definitely consider going to your seminar after Braz-Tesol… I have some plans pending – re: Delta. I’ll get back to you! I’d love to be part of it!


  7. We share the same feeling, Ceci. Being this my first big, international convention, I could feel as you said “having a PLN and being active on Twitter and reading people’s blogs has given me a better sense of what people are involved in, what they do, their views on teaching.”
    It’s amazing to have the opportunity to chat, sit at a table to have some coffee, learn and share whose books lie on my bedside table. But not only the big names, ordinary teachers like me whose work I deeply admire and who I got to know more personally changed my views in a way that I will never be able to explain.
    Having this sense of belonging to this great community of practice, or PLN (if I may) is something that made me rethink all my beliefs in my profession.
    And I dare say that going to IATEFL is somehow addictive. I am already planning my trip to Liverpool.

    • Bru!!!!!!! I knew you’d be blown away. And your presentation was fantastic…this will be the first of many, dearest 🙂

      BTW, you’re late… am already saving for IATEFL – and others!

  8. David Warr says:

    Very nice ending. I love articles (blogs, newspapers etc.) when the last sentence links right back to the beginning, but this time the reader sees it in a different light. Made me smile. Happy Easter!

    • Hi David!!!

      I have to say I have I love those too… gives a sense of closure, doesn’t it? Full circle. Reference made, reference closed. I do see it differently… the post was my catharsis to move away from it 🙂

      If I made you smile…. it made my day.

      Love, to you, and Matilda. Happy Easter! 🙂

  9. Brad Patterson says:

    When do i get to start feeling less GREEN with envy. Would’ve loved to have caught the fire n brimstone à la Anthony. Amen! The industry that is visible to us on blogs and twitter is moving and changing, tho I’d say we’re early adopters and it’ll b another 5-10 years before we see much widescale change in sin 🙂

    Glad that you had a good one, CC and hope not to miss it next time!!! Bisous -brad

    • Hey B!!!

      You were sorely missed…. I can tell you that. I think you would have really enjoyed this year’s conference… at least I did. It really gave me a great breath of fresh air and hope. Relief – Geez-I-am-not-the-devil kind of thing….

      But I totally agree with you… people involved in the blogosphere, PLN and stuff are people who are eager to develop online are ahead of things. I do believe we are onto something, but I also believe it’s a little away (time-wise) the moment we see some real, meaningful change. It’ll take a few years till this idea gets more widespread. but it’s gotta start somewhere, right?
      Hope to see you soon!


  10. Kevin Stein says:

    Hi Cecilia,

    I wasn’t at the conference, but your blog helps me feel like I can still take part in the dialogue that has been started. I have to agree with Tyson and yourself. We shouldn’t let fear get in the way of doing what we feel is the right thing to do in a classroom. That’s why teaching is an art, right? There are no set rules, we have to use our experience and intuition to make moment by moment decisions and no methodology or teaching style or anything else will provide the perfect response to what is happening in our classroom. Thanks for the great post. And for the gift of a little more confidence to simply do what I need to do for my students in each and every class, because if I don’t believe that I can do the right thing in a classroom, it’s going to be that much harder to believe in my students as well.

    • Hi Kevin,

      I’m happy to hear we see eye to eye on this… and my hunch is that many more feel the same way. It’s a pity that many times we know we should change our approach or do some translation and we still stop and question ourselves to how it will be perceived by the coordination or the students, how it (possibly) goes against how some people say teaching should be done…

      Just like you, being in the conference and picking up this feeling gave me more confidence and I could see my teaching confidence change right away, in the first classes I taught after I came back. I took a few attitudes I wouldn’t have done so quickly or sure of myself before it. I guess more than anything, it gave me the gift of trusting my own teaching and the near 20 years of classroom experience I have. Confidence to trust my judgement.

      That can’t be bad, eh? I’m glad it gave you more confidence as well.

  11. lizziepinard says:

    Great post! I know exactly what you mean by the feelings you describe. 🙂
    IATEFL Glasgow 2012 was my first ever conference but it would have been much harder without Sandy giving helpful tips all the way through and without twitter people in general giving it all a much less isolated feeling. I really enjoyed it and have come away feeling very motivated. Looking forward to the next one!


    • Hey Lizzie!!!!

      I am sorry it took me a while to reply, but so many things have kept me away… It was delightful to meet you bin Glasgow ad I hope we can both make it to Liverpool 🙂
      Much a less isolated feeling, I agree. Being in a PLN gives you a sense of belonging. I am glad I am in your PLN.
      Cheers (and hopefully a big hug in a near conference!)


  12. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } cecilialcoelho.wordpress.com – Today, 1:49 […]

  13. […] It all changed about a month ago, after I attended IATEFL. As I have mentioned in this blog, this year’s IATEFL Conference (and a few of the talks I attended) left me with a sense of direction. With a feeling of more freedom. Freedom of being a teacher. Freedom of doing what I think is best for my students, no matter what approach is in vogue, or is adopted by the school where I teach. (You can read more about this feeling with my post IATEFL post). […]

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