December 18, 2010

TESL Ontario Conference 2010

Well, the TESL Ontario Conference was well over a month ago now and my bag of books and notes have finally been unpacked (better late than never).

I had taken a few out to use with my students with positive outcomes, and two arrived by courier a month ago and the last one (the one I’ve been dying to receive) arrived a few weeks ago.

The majority of my classes are private and so this One-to-One book looks wonderful. The units are very short (2 pages) and have everything you need.

Of course, supplementing the lessons is a given and you could adjust them for the student’s needs and goals. One of my students is very advanced and I couldn’t wait to try this with him.

While at the conference I saw/participated in some really great workshops. I may have mentioned before, if the session blurb says ‘paper’ or ‘presentation’, I take a pass as that means ‘LECTURE’ and from experience they are really dry and boring. I have yet to attend one that hasn’t been like that. I also take a pass at many publisher sessions. I used to think ‘Oh awesome, a chance for a free book’, but often I was disappointed in the presentation and materials. It ended up being a waste of my time. The title has to be pretty catchy and sound very interesting if I’m going to attend any of those three.

Some advice I have for those wanting to go to conferences: 1) Choose sessions that you will find interesting and benefit from. If work is paying for you to go and they want you to attend a particular session or two, you might as well as it’s their money; 2) Make time for breaks. You’ll need to visit the washroom, grab something to eat or drink, or need a breather; 3) Take something small to eat. Depending on when the session is, you may get the munchies or your tummy begins grumbling. Have something with you that can tie you over and is somewhat healthy. I discourage noisy snacks; it’s disrespectful to the presenter and those around you; 4) Take advantage of the tea breaks and water stations. You’ll need to keep hydrated and possibly need the caffeine, especially for those early morning or late afternoon sessions. And don’t worry about chugging them down quickly; you can take them into the session with you; 5) Didn’t get into the session you wanted? Stand in line at the session door and if there’s room, you’ll get a spot; 6) Talk to those around you. I don’t mean tell them your life story, but chat and talk about the sessions you’ve been to; 7) Take paper and a pen; 8) Wander through the exhibitors and check out the materials. If you’re like me, you’re never sure what to order because you don’t know what the book is really like. This is the perfect opportunity. Even if you don’t buy anything, write down the titles and authors or circle them in the catalogue. Chat to the reps as they may be able to recommend something or help you decide. The materials are usually discounted for the conference and by chatting to the reps, you may be able to obtain the discount if you decide to order a week or so later. An additional bonus of chatting with the reps: If you buy many books, they may be able to give you an even bigger discount (when one rep found out I was paying for my own materials he gave me two books free – so appreciative when they are normally $50 each).

Here’s a run-down of the sessions I attended (I tried to keep it brief). If you’re interested in one of the sessions, contact me and I may be able to send you a copy of my notes or the handout we were given:
Tania Iverson – Success with English for Specific Academic Studies As always, Tania put on a great session. Although it was based on a textbook series, she had loads of practical ideas and points that could be used with any business or technical material.
James McMullan – Developing Focused Non-Comprehension Strategies to Improve Communication I’d never heard the word ‘Muddlygump’ before, and now it’s ingrained in my mind. This was a fun and interactive workshop looking at what your students say to show their lack of understanding and strategies they can use that mimic how native-speakers really speak.
Andrew Taylor – I Can’t Believe I Learned Grammar His energy filled the room as he presented communicative oral tasks and activities to use with students to teach, practice and improve their grammar. While teachers may use communicative tasks in their lessons, not many may use the excitement and energy needed to get their students interested and excited about it. Weeks later, I still picture him Jazz Chanting ‘going to’ sentences while snapping his fingers in keeping time.
Mike Simpson – Websites and Blogs Although I often use websites for my lessons, blogs was a new one. I blog, but don’t often use them with my students. There was a new idea or two here relating to blogs, but I’m not sure if I’ll use them. However, for someone who doesn’t use either one for their lessons or with their students, they are missing a great tool. The possibilities are endless for material, activities, topics and themes, and the dreaded grammar.
Radmila Rakas – Teaching About and Appreciating Nature It was nice to see a thematic workshop showing people that one can use the usual tasks and activities for vocabulary, listening, etc with a specific topic.
Angelica Galante – Reducing Learner’s Language Anxiety This workshop discussed some of the ways anxiety occurs with our students and ways to minimize it in the classroom. It was interesting because many teachers do these things already (I assume), but minimizing anxiety may not be the goal, it’s using the suggestions for communicative practice, skills practice, grammar, etc. I found the connection with this just awesome.
Teresa McGill and Jayne Edmonds – Crucial Lessons Learned in Corporate ESL This workshop was more like a story-sharing moment for the presenters. From an administrative position it may have been great, but from a teaching point of view, not so much. The gist was not to put all your eggs in one basket: if all your contracts are with one company/department and the contract dries up or goes somewhere else, you’re screwed. It seemed like common sense, but maybe that’s because I’ve encountered that situation before at a school I worked for.
Tim Westhead – Picture That! Great Writing Prompts for Students There were great ideas presented (sadly I use them all already so didn’t learn anything new) in using pictures and visuals with your students for writing prompts, advertisements, guiding with headlines and ideas. From experience, these really work well and if your students are hesitant to write, try them out. A word of warning: Tim Westhead likes to make comments about how little teachers are paid, the school should pay for your materials, etc, etc; and if you’re like me and work in the private sector (unlike Tim who worked for a school board), this can be really annoying. I’m sure Tim would be shocked to learn the salary I survive on. So my advice, try to ignore it as the other stuff he says is pretty interesting and helpful.
Marijke Wertheim – Activities for Teaching Listening Strategies I’d heard positive things from a peer about this one – and it was really great. I took so much away with me on using listening material other ways. Tables worked together discussing strategies and ideas, and luckily, there was time for some Q and A at the end. Although I had tried things suggested before (yea me!), I hadn’t realized the benefits and outcome for the students. Here, you’re getting away from the typical textbook listening tasks. You know the ones. They just test your students on the right/wrong answers. Instead you can use them for teaching strategies, use for critical thought, the type of language used, discussion, making predictions beforehand, having students write questions to answer themselves, do note-taking, and analyze language, tone or emotion. However, to do this you have to give the students a very specific purpose (like any of those just listed) and build up to it like you would with any other task.


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