KOTESOL National Conference 2011

Last weekend saw me heading off to Daejeon for the KOTESOL national conference at KAIST. It was only my second ever teachers conference, and I was perhaps expecting something a little larger than the 250 or so person event that it turned out to be, but that was mostly due to my previous conference being the heaving scrum of English professionals that is the International Conference. From talking to a Daejeon chapter member I gathered that the turn-out was reasonably high, so congratulations to the Daejeon chapter for organising an interesting and useful conference.

The plenary speaker was one of the people who I most admire in ELT, Jason Renshaw, in what could be his last ever ELT related appearance. His take on where materials design is headed was not particularly new for regular readers of his blog, but the vision of fully digitised, modifiable, selectable materials where the author and publisher can be immediately questioned is certainly an enticing one. What was interesting and inspiring was his “DIY” message, that any English teacher with a small amount of technical knowledge can circumnavigate the traditional ESL apparatus of schools and publishers and go it alone. If you’re interested I suggest reading Jason’s blog for more info. Who knows, this could be something that I find myself trying sometime in the future.

I also saw a slightly disappointing presentation entitled Advancing TESOL in the 21st Century by simply doing less by Kevin Giddens. It suffered most from having an introduction which built up expectations of the presentation that it was never going to reach. Kevin showed us a video about a Japanese botanist, who created a system of farming in which nature did most of the work, yet still produced equal or greater yields. This farmer stopped flooding his rice paddies, and Kevin used this example to call for a reflection on teaching practices that we do just because they have always been done. At this point I was expecting something revolutionary, perhaps that he had stopped talking to his students entirely, or stopped writing on the board, as maybe expected of “Do nothing teaching”. What we got was three examples of teachers who had adapted their lesson plans on the fly to take advantage of learner interest, which while laudable classroom practice is nothing particularly revolutionary, and very little from Kevin himself. I’m sure there are elements of our teaching practice that could be stripped away as unnecessary, but I don’t feel that this presentation took us much closer to finding them.

The most useful presentation I went to was Julien McNulty’s on sentence building and editing. His method of building sentences from coloured blocks is something I hope to adapt for all of my classes who can actually write. Sentence structure is a huge problem for a lot of my early writers, so I look forward to several weeks of directing students to pick up red squares for nouns, and green triangles for verbs. For editing purposes, Julien’s idea was that it is rarely meaning that has to be edited, but just the number of words. Thus students are encouraged to use ‘Hemingways’, and reduce the length of sentences or utterances.

I also found some useful ways to present grammar in Maria Pinto’s presentation Grammar patterns: More conversation, less teacher talk about the QASI system and how it can be expanded to all forms of question grammar. A little way in to the presentation the basic grammar left me feeling like I was being taught to suck eggs by my granddaughter, but the key is in the presentation and I have already used this approach in a lesson this week. I also did some revision of giving instructions and content checking questions with Joanne McQuaig, which led to my instructions being (rightly) torn apart. This is something I do need to work on, though I would like to have had more strategy than examples (but perhaps I’m just bitter).

Finally, a quick shout to fellow Gangwon chapter member Andee Pollard who presented his research findings in the face of relentless questioning from a member of the audience. He may have persuaded me to submit my own attempts at writing Korean to lang-8.com .

That was all I got to see – how about you? Who did you see? What did you learn? What have you used since? Leave a comment.

Alex

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