TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

My Experience at TESOL 2014 and My New-Found Love for Presentations

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Last month I got to participate at the TESOL Convention in Portland, and what an enriching experience that was! First of all, I had not presented at an international conference before, and even though I just gave a poster presentation there, it was such a great opportunity to focus on learning more about a topic that has interested me these past few years: vocabulary acquisition and using corpus-based tools for language learning. I want to do more poster presentations now; it’s such a fun way to learn more about an area that you care about while also meeting other teachers with similar interests.

And well, all of this got me thinking: why is it that many of us teachers of ESOL shy away from presenting, and why is attending conferences so energizing and motivating?

Two big questions, I know, but worth exploring because of what it can mean for our every day practices.

At the conference, I had a chance to participate in a few Electronic Village events organized by the Computer Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS). They definitely put out some great workshops, and I know that from now on, I’ll always attend at least a couple at each conference. I love the collaborative spirit of all people involved, the hands-on nature of the work shared, and of course, the geekiness of it all.  One of the workshops in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) category, was about using www.wordandphrase.info to learn vocabulary and explore words in depth. So useful! I was there with 2 or 3 other attendees who got to share their own experiences or ideas using the site. Getting to hear what works well (or not so well) for teachers in other contexts is such a great added benefit of these sessions. What’s best, it was right before that session that I met @avafruin, ELT twitter friend from California. How exciting to finally connect in person! At another session, I accidentally ran into @citoyennemondia, an insightful teacher I first met because of her participation in the ELT Paper Club. What a great coincidence! Meeting “old” Twitter friends and making new ones, like Autumn @TESOLatRennert and @Dan_Ferreira_jp l is definitely one of the most exciting parts of ELT conferences.

But back to the first question: Why do we shy away from presenting at conferences? I think we don’t realize how much we have to share with others, and ironically, I think many of us English teachers are a bit intimidated by the academic community and research. Of course, a great number of teachers of ESOL are overworked and underpaid, so thinking about conducting research or exploring teaching-related topics in depth might seem to be too much work, but what I have learned is that it all pays off. Exploring a challenging aspect of ELT brings the gratification of finding out that others may go through your same struggle, that there are solutions you had not thought about before, and that perhaps some of what you had been doing and were not so sure about is actually grounded in theory. Or perhaps you’ll learn, like I did during Penny Ur’s  and Eli Finkel’s presentation on vocabulary acquisition, that some of your ideas about learning are not necessarily the most efficient. Case in point, learning vocabulary by guessing from context. At their presentation I found out that apparently students could benefit more from getting a brief explanation of the word or hearing examples of it used in context rather than being asked to guess meaning from context, especially when there are too many unknown words in the text.

Now, what is it about connecting to others that is so motivating?

Teaching can be a pretty solitary act. We often don’t have the time to talk to our colleagues and learn what they are doing. I know sometimes I’ve felt like I’m the only one struggling with a particular issue in class, and I’ve also often had second-thoughts about my approach to learning different skills or language items. Well, connecting with other teachers at conferences and online (though blogs or social media) brings this new energy and confidence that a) other teachers have experienced your same struggles and can offer useful tips or help you think of new ways or approaching old dilemmas, b) our learners share a lot more in common than we think, and there’s a lot for us to learn from each other.

There’s about a month and a half left to apply for next year’s TESOL Convention in Toronto, and although I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it, I want to apply and try my hardest to make that happen. Of course, TESOL is not the only place to present and I think it’s a great opportunity for any ELT professional to plan a presentation. In fact, it might even be better to consider presenting at local conferences, to colleagues, at an online event (like the RSCON), or at a regional conference. There are so many outstanding teachers out there with so much to share. I encourage you all to participate and connect to teachers in our profession -we’re so privileged to be in a field that keeps reinventing itself and growing more each day. Let’s embrace it!

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10 thoughts on “My Experience at TESOL 2014 and My New-Found Love for Presentations

  1. hi laura

    what was your poster on?

    have u seen this write up of what i think you attended on vocab and online tools for vocab? http://englishwithjennifer.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/tesol-2014-highlights-vocabulary-learning-and-instruction/

    i think part of an answer to your conference question is that maybe many teachers don’t feel they have things to contribute, certainly i only thought of contributing via my blog which in fact got me an invite to do my first ever proper talk!

    also i know with a family attending conferences is even more of a challenge, but stuff like rscon are great initiatives which i think will become the norm


    • Hi Mura

      Thanks for the stopping by! I’ve read Jennifer’s blog before, but I had not seen her posts about TESOL. Thanks for sharing! I did not attend the same sessions she did, but one thing is for sure -there were a lot of great sessions about using corpus-based tools in ELT.

      My poster was on the use of flashcards for vocabulary acquisition. I’ve been playing around with different types of flashcards (using collocations, synonyms, sentences) and sometimes also using pages like Quizlet.

      So what will your talk be on? Is this for TESOL 2015?

      And yes, I think it is common to feel we can’t contribute. Reflecting about our teaching and getting to know others online certainly has helped me feel differently about participating though. Oh, and I can certainly imagine that having young kids would make things more difficult as well.

      Anyway, hope our paths will cross sometime! -Laura.

      • hi

        have u blogged about your poster?

        the talk i gave was last year in may, at the lexical teaching conference, then that gave me impetus to give a talk at tesolfrance last november 🙂

        how was your presentation for EULEAP?

        definitely hope to meetup in meatspace sometime too 🙂


      • Hi Mura -I have not blogged about the poster, and I had not even thought about it! What a good idea 🙂 The EULEAP Conference is next month at Potsdam. A bit nervous about it, but excited to present a bit more formally now. Will definitely blog about the presentation soon. Thanks for the encouragement!

      • Hi, Dear Laurita, how nice to hear from you and know you are doing so many special things about teahing.Congratulatiaons. I’d like to know aout the flashcards stuff you are talking about.
        A biiig hg from Cali,

      • Hola Rocio querida!

        So good to hear from you, too! Thanks for the comment. I will be posting soon on the ideas I presented on the poster at TESOL, for sure! Hope you’ll find some of it useful with your students. Please say hi to everyone at Icesi – I often think of you all. Great memories! Hugs from Turkey 😉 Laura.

  2. Hi Laura,

    A timely post – for me at least, as I’m going to be giving my first poster presentation at the EDEN conference this June, and am very excited about this. More so than I would be about presenting at an ELT event because I’ve only been teaching online for about a year.

    I wanted to add, regarding the question of why we shy away from presenting, that it can sometimes be simply due to lack of time. When I was working full-time, it was much harder for me to squeeze in a talk if I wanted to prepare for it properly so that the audience wouldn’t feel it had been a waste of their time. Also, those who work as full-time primary/secondary/language school teachers (and are at the same time not academic managers or teacher trainers for instance), might be less motivated to fit presenting into their schedule since I’m not sure if their schools/institutions encourage/reward this in any way. I’ve had a quick look at the IATEFL conference programme and most of those listed on the first 4 pages of poster presentations seem to be working at tertiary level where conference participation/paper publication is a requirement (at least in Croatia, where I’m from).

    I fully agree with the point you made about the motivational effect of connecting with others at conferences and online and hope that this will encourage more educators to present and share their ideas and work.

    • Hi Vedrana,

      First of all, thanks for your insightful comment, and congrats on your upcoming poster presentation!

      I completely agree with you in saying that working full-time makes a lot harder to prepare to present. I’ve definitely spent more weekends at home than I did before. I did not acknowledge this in my post, but I imagine that having kids would also make it a lot harder. Poster presentations, however, seem so much more manageable. Teachers that are not supported at all by their employer definitely have less of an incentive, so again, it’s not a surprise teachers of ESOL don’t publish more often, especially those working at universities. I’m often surprised to learn how little support some teachers at universities get. I don’t have any experience working at language institutes, but I bet support does not come that easy either. Having said this, I think many of us don’t realize how empowering and doable presenting can be. The academic world is scary sometimes, but we have so much to contribute.

      Anyway, I feel like I’m rambling now. Thanks again for stopping by 🙂


  3. Matthew on said:

    I was *this* close to meeting you there…glad you had a good time. It was my 3rd convention and it was my best. They keep getting better and better! Hope to be in Toronto in 2014! 🙂

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