Monthly Archives: March 2014

Learn English in Wales Conference 2014

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Yikes- I knew I should have had a shave…

On March 1st, teachers, directors, managers and all manner of other EFL-related professionals from across the country descended upon Cardiff and Vale College (formerly Coleg Glan Hafren) in Cardiff to participate in the second Learn English in Wales conference. A day to remember indeed, from the broad spectrum of innovative elective sessions to the intriguing plenary talks of the two key-note speakers- Sam McCarter and Jeremy Harmer.

The first session that I attended was delivered by David Greenslade of Cardiff Metropolitan University, on the use of the topic of ‘money’ to facilitate learning in class. The session was well attended and saw David explain the vast array of uses that money could have to this end. It was a topic that all were to some degree familiar with, but this was in fact the point as David was able to present examples from his own experience (and literature) of how this familiarity can be turned to the teacher’s, or rather the students’, advantage.

The next session I saw from a very different perspective to the first, as I was presenting it. The title, in hindsight a little obscure though I think those who came got the general idea, was ‘The Power of Reflection’, and drew upon a personal project that I have been undertaking for just over a year looking at how teachers can use self-evaluation as a means to professional development. The talk was well-attended, something I was glad of once the initial nerves had settled, particularly by academic directors in a similar position to my own. I met a good number of them later during the delicious lunchtime refreshments and was delighted to be able to discuss some of the points from the talk at length and explain other s in finer detail.

After coffee and a viewing of the posters on display it was on to the third and final elective session. I chose a presentation by Georgeta Bradatan of WE-Bridge International as the subject matter, utilizing images in lessons, is something that I already do a lot with my own students, not least those taking the FCE exam, and I hoped to pick up some ideas from Georgeta and other attendees. The session built upon the idea of the photograph as a source of idea and language stimulation and explored how a seemingly innocuous image can be worked into lessons for students at various levels of ability.

The lunch break was a fantastic opportunity to meet and talk with others, including the publishers’ representatives who had set up stalls in the main corridor. The food, as mentioned, was first-rate and testament to the hard-work of the team of caterers, who also diligently kept everyone’s teas and coffees topped up throughout the day.

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Sam McCarter, with his characteristic soft-toned eloquence, addressed the whole conference next with his talk on developing IELTS reading skills. I had attended a similar presentation by Sam a few years ago, and again I was struck by his obvious wealth of knowledge and the logic of the teaching strategies that he divulged. I, like many around me, was scribbling every other word down and his generous pace allowed this to happen without much being missed.

The final session was delivered by Jeremy Harmer, whom I had also witnessed before ‘in action’ but not to such a large audience. Beginning with the striking and evocative question of ‘Why do we need teachers at all?’, Jeremy proceeded to take the hall on a roller-coaster ride of inquiry that meandered seamlessly from Sugata Mitra and an experiment with a computer set into a street wall in India to see if uninitiated children would be able to learn how to use it independently to the unlikely philosophical profundity of US songstress Sheryl Crow.

Later, following a question and answer session with the two eminent speakers of the afternoon, Jeremy returned to the stage with virtuoso violinist Steve Bingham to entertain the attendees with some stirring poetry and music. It was a wonderful way to round off a wonderful day, characterized, as many others have commented, by a general cheeriness and good will that seemed to permeate, perhaps inspired by the knowledge among participants that it was St. Davids Day and the beautiful welsh daffodils that elegantly adorned the main hall to mark the occasion.

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Tristan Francis
Director of Studies

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