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InnovateELT 2024 - The North Station Reflections

On the 25th and 26th of May, the North Station team ventured up to Barcelona to attend the annual InnovateELT conference. This year was quite special as most of the team was attending, and three staff members were presenting as well! What follows here are the reflections from our Senior Teachers Lauriane, Fred and Damian, and the Director of Studies Jim.


Lauriane

The first workshop I attended was led by Blanca Gallego and titled “Fostering student autonomy and accountability to enhance language learning”. She discussed self-directed learning, where the learner takes responsibility for their learning process by setting goals, tracking progress, and more. In this approach, the teacher acts as a guide, supporting the learner mainly through questions like: “You mentioned you're struggling with this, so what can we do to change that? How can I help you improve X, Y, and Z? How do you want me to give feedback? How do you want me to interrupt when you make a mistake?”.


As a language teacher myself, I found this perspective very interesting. I strongly believe that teachers are not all-knowing entities who simply transfer knowledge into the empty heads of learners. However, I also think that this idea of self-directed learning requires a significant amount of self-awareness and self-reflection. I have occasionally tried to adopt a more self-directed learning approach with my teens learners, but it has been challenging. The skills needed to identify one's language needs and to observe and evaluate one's own behaviour or cognitive processes are not innate; they must be nurtured and practised.


Autonomy and accountability are key life skills that we probably need to take a more active role in developing within our classrooms. This workshop has certainly inspired me to explore these aspects further, and I will definitely look into incorporating them in my teen classes. Thank you, Blanca!


Fred

Recent neurological research has highlighted the importance of non-directive instructions in language teaching. Rachel Marie Paling and Blanca Gallego’s work demonstrates that language learner’s brains react best to guided, empathetic coaching as opposed to strict rigid teaching done in a dictatorial manner. Brain scans showed that the amygdala or prefrontal cortex can block signals from the rest of the minds under stressful conditions. Following further conversations with Rachel, it seems that the “flow” state of mind required for exploring solutions and solving problems is the ultimate goal for the teacher. Hence, we should explore how we act as “coaches”, encouraging “self regulated learning” and acting as an expert soundboard for learners’ ideas to bounce off. Another point raised in this talk was the importance of considering “attention spans” in learners, in particular young learners. Authorities on the matter suggested that the child’s age plus two was the amount of time in minutes that they can concentrate for. The implications of this could be significant, especially considering lesson planning and preparation.

To return to the concept of non-directive instruction, Rachel Marie Paling and Blanca Gallego, in their respective workshops, detailed how this may be achieved through empathy and compassion. If a student is feeling demotivated or that they are in an unfair situation, the teacher would do well to demonstrate that they feel for the student and show that they are sorry for them feeling this way. In showing compassion, the teacher works towards an option for the student which considers their emotional needs but helps them linguistically.


The element of choice on behalf of the learner was echoed in the workshop of Eva Bogdanović and Ivana Burić, whose roleplay session involved learners choosing different doors so as to discover language in a self-directed manner. As well as this, Lydie Bureau’s description of her book club community also raises questions of how we can connect with students’ invested interest.


Damian

Where do I begin? This is hands-down the best conference I have been to. Granted my experiences aren’t vast. However, I’ve heard plenty from others as well.  The first thing that I noticed walking through the doors at Oxford TEFL in Barcelona was the vibe. 


This relaxed feeling throughout the conference resonated very well with me. It was such a comfortable feeling and I really appreciated it because it was my first time presenting at a conference. I was quite a bit nervous on the way over, but once I walked in that nervousness seemed to dissipate. 


I loved the encouragement that I got from everyone, that helped to instil confidence in me that I believe everyone got to witness. I was more than happy to walk into the room where I was presenting and see so many people ready to hear what I had to say with such attentiveness. I feel very good about having made an impact and really planting a seed in people's minds that will hopefully help them to grow in their careers. 


The location itself was also unique, with the beautiful garden in the back where you could “take a load off”, complimented by the coffee before and during the conference and the “cheeky” beers afterwards at night. Allowing for a unique and enlightening camaraderie amongst the attendees. 


The staff and all those who attended were very welcoming, and very eager to learn and gather new information to apply to their own lessons or careers. It was such a breath of fresh air to see how much everyone wanted to improve. I also really enjoyed the idea of having this theme of “power to the classroom”, that lets you know ahead of time that any of the workshops or lectures that you attend we’re going to be quite beneficial to you and your students. The only problem I could find was wanting to make it to multiple lessons at the same time 😅. 


So officially I say to Innovate 2024, you are so far my favourite conference. Everyone involved did an excellent job in being incredible hosts. Looking forward to next year!


Jim

Whenever the time for InnovateELT comes around, I always get excited. Why? Because I've always found this conference to be unique in that the sessions are always insightful, practical and provoking, whilst at the same time the social side of things is superb. Hats off to the OxfordTEFL team for all their good work!


This year, I opened the conference with a plenary titled: Managing your garden - How school leaders can impact quality teaching. My emphasis was on the leaders within language teaching organisations (and this is not only managers - all those who have influence within the organisation, and who want to better the organisation is some way) and how they play a pivotal role in steering the organisation. They are the people who ask critical questions, empower teachers, and strive for a team-focused environment. The plenary felt as if it went well - at least nobody ran away! I was really excited for this opportunity, and hope that those who were there were able to identify some takeaways.


Along with the plenary, I also ran a session for trainers, and this was titled: Using narratives in the training room. Here, I ran trainers through a process of using short narratives with teachers to explore their implicit and often tacit beliefs. The group I worked with were amazing - very supportive, but also very willing to get in there, discuss and identify takeaways.


I also had the pleasure of attending numerous talks - one of my favourite being Teresa Bestwick's. T, as we know her, was talking about how we can make our classes inclusive. She presented numerous ideas, and I've come away with a few good activities and techniques to keep in mind for the coming academic year. All in all, this year's conference lived up to my expectations, and I'm already looking forward to next year.


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