IATEFL 2009 report

Theron Muller, Noah Learning Center


As one of the first winners of the John Haycraft Classroom Exploration Scholarship, sponsored by International House, London, it was an honor to attend IATEFL in Cardiff in April. After teaching and researching in Japan for 8 years, it was a special privilege to see and meet many of the people I had previously known only through email or books, people like Dave and Jane Willis and the Crystal family. Particularly memorable was lunch and an evening at a jazz cafe in downtown Cardiff with the Willises. While we had consulted on book and journal projects in the past, there is some personality and history that can only be conveyed through face to face meetings and discussions. I learned a lot about the early history of the Birmingham distance MA, where I received my masters, and the state of TBL outside of Japan. I was also able to take a daytrip to my alma mater, the University of Birmingham, where I met many of the people I’m in regular email contact with as a tutor on the CELS MA program.

As a special guest at the ESP SIG Pre-Conference Event, I heard speakers share their stories of English teaching from a vast array of contexts, encompassing Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It was encouraging to learn about different geographic regions from educators who live and work in those places, and who were eager to share the innovations they are implementing locally. There appeared to be some similarity across contexts in terms of the challenges faced, and I think perhaps several parallels with the current push toward English education in elementary schools in Japan.

The opportunity to create new networks of contacts was another benefit of IATEFL Cardiff. For example, at Fauzia Shamin’s plenary session I was able to pledge interest in supporting research into teaching large classes. She’s not so interested in North American-based research that indicates smaller classes are better; the reality is that smaller class size is the most expensive possible innovation. Instead she’s interested in discovering and creating tools to help teachers of large classes to adapt to the reality of their classrooms and teach more effectively. As part of my pledge I received the British Council published Maximizing learning in large classes: Issues and options,which was the result of an in-service training of English teachers in Ethiopia in 2006. Since returning to Japan, I’ve consulted it heavily with regard to the Engineering College classes I teach, where there are 42 students per 45-minute class. It hadn’t occurred to me before leaving Japan that my teaching context would have so much in common with educators in Ethiopia and Pakistan, or that we could form a network, along with other teachers throughout the world, intended to address issues common to all of our educational contexts.

Another advantage of the conference was that I saw how educators are incorporating technology into the classroom, via Second Life and cell phone collaboration, to name but two. There was a strong push for more technology integration into classrooms throughout the world.

The City Hall and National Museum made a spectacular backdrop to the events of the conference. The scenery was rich and splendid, and the presentations compelling. The best part of the conference is that it isn’t over: IATEFL online continues to host a selection of presentations from the conference (including mine if you want to see it) and discussion about the major themes covered there. Visit <iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2009/> for more information.

The conference wasn’t all work and no play. I did some sightseeing of the area around Cardiff, and was able to experience some of the local Welsh culture. In addition to my daytrip to Castell Coch, Trinity hosted an evening celebration at Cardiff Castle, a spectacular setting for a party. Finally, I also toured the Welsh National Assembly, which was informative and interesting.

All around, it was a great opportunity and experience.

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