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