The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Saturday, April 16, 2011

IATEFL day one

Today was the first day of the IATEFL conference and saw a couple of interesting talks plus some good meetings with friends and colleagues.

I went to the Pearson discussion session - Which words are worth the worry? - with Diane and Norbert Schmitt in Brighton and Averil Coxhead and Paul Nation on a Skype link from New Zealand. It was an interesting session for several reasons. Firstly, it was an odd format. Although the Skype link-up worked quite well, it meant that Diane and Norbert were in the room, but sat at a desk in front of a webcam, which meant you couldn't see them. So the whole thing was very much of a listening exercise with little to look at and it was quite difficult to maintain concentration.

It was fascinating to see Averil Coxhead, albeit only on the screen. She's someone whose work I've followed and had a lot to do with in recent years and who I suppose I had a mental image of. And she looked absolutely nothing like I'd imagined! Some of her comments were very interesting though. One thing that really struck me was when she was talking about potential mismatches between what we think we're teaching students (in terms of vocabulary) and what they think is important to learn. She told a story about a Chinese student who said she was only interested in learning verbs, not nouns, because Chinese people like to do things! It was one of those really interesting thoughts that really got me thinking. I've made a mental note to ask my own (mostly Chinese) students in the summer what kind of language they think is most important to learn. I'm intrigued to see whether Chinese learners really do have a preference for verbs!

I also went to a really interesting session with a former teaching colleague, Catherine Mitsaki, about critical friend groups. She talked about a project in which she put EAP students into groups to critique each others' writing work and to provide peer feedback on a regular basis throughout a course. The idea being to promote critical thinking and encourage learners to be more independent rather than always relying on the teacher. It was a really interesting idea and one I'm definitely going to mull over before I teach again in August. I'm not sure it'll be quite as effective in such a short course (just 5 weeks) as it seems like an idea that takes some time for students to be comfortable with and really start to benefit from. I'm sure I can take elements of it though.

Some interesting food for thought today and looking forward to more tomorrow.

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