The annual IATEFL conference is the beating heart at the centre of the ELT community. Featuring over 500 talks, workshops and symposiums, it’s the perfect opportunity to hear from leading ELT theorists and writers and exchange ideas with English language educators. With delegates from more than 100 countries attending, the global nature of the event is one of its most valuable aspects for me. It’s refreshing to hear diverse perspectives and the range of voices from across the ELT world who see ELT teaching and learning through different lenses. But it’s also always interesting to pick out the common themes that recur across the conference programme as these are the key issues that connect everyone in the profession.
The signature event ‘Motivation and Engagement of ELT students’ will feature speakers taking us on a deep dive to explore the impact of engagement and motivation on learner outcomes. As part of the academic team who developed the Global Scale of English, Barbara Gardener will talk about the motivational benefits of having a granular scale and specific learning objectives. Mariusz Buszta from Poland will discuss how blended learning and technology can be used both in and outside the classroom to motivate primary and young adult learners.
This year the theme of motivation crops up again and again across the conference programme: what motivates us as educators, how we can motivate our learners to be more autonomous, and the impact of teaching systems and practices on learner motivation are just three of a host of talks on the subject that are sure to get delegates talking and create the buzz the IATEFL conference hall is known for. It’s not a new topic, but it is a critical one. A 2014 global survey revealed that 88% of respondents said that English was very valuable as a second language, but the survey also highlighted that motivation is fragile. Even though respondents said they feel learning English is necessary many also reported they find the process frustrating.
That feeling of frustration can kick in right at the start of a study programme if a learner isn’t placed correctly within a course. Ian Wood has been investigating the pros and cons of different approaches to placement and the results they produce. He will talk about what the industry can do to support learners through effective placement. Vocabulary is another area where prioritising effectively can have a big impact on motivation. Veronica Beningo and Huw Bell will explore what vocabulary learners need at the different stages of the learning journey to give them the best chance of successfully communicating in English. They will showcase their work, which has mapped the words and phrases adult learners of General English should know at different proficiency levels to be able to successfully communicate with other English speakers. As well as ensuring learners gain the language they need, prioritisation also ensures learning is relevant.
Relevance and the impact on motivation is a theme picked up in a talk on the needs of Generation Z by Kasia Janitz De la Rue . It will explore how digitally enabled learning that reflects the real world this generation operates in is taking self-directed learning into new territory, offering education solutions orientated around the learner rather than provider or teacher. The argument is that Generation Z needs to approach learning with confidence not fear and that starting young is the perfect time to instill students with responsibility for their own learning. Looking at a slightly older demographic, Agnieszka Kłos-Dacka will talk about her experiences of working with young adults looking to develop the linguistic skills they need to meet job market requirements. Her argument is that blended learning techniques can be a real ally when it comes to fostering learner autonomy in a mixed-ability class. Managing motivations in mixed-ability classes can pose challenges for teachers, just like placement can. Agnieszka points to evidence that in her school taking a blended, learner-centred approach has closed the skills gap between the least and most skilled students.
As educators we are all seeking the best outcomes for our students. That’s why my final top pick for the event is a session rooted in a whole year’s worth of practical research with teachers around the globe. Anna Makowksa will share her top ten practices for improving learner outcomes, showing which simple and reliable techniques teachers are employing around the world to measure the impact on learning. IATEFL brings together the brightest and the best to share what they know. That’s why I’m in Birmingham soaking up the latest best practice and perspectives on what works in the world of ELT.
If you’re unable to attend the event, look out for key takeaways and some interviews with presenters which will be shared in future posts.