I just awoke from a needed rest after returning from three days of attendance at the ETAI(English Teachers Association in Israel) Annual Conference from Monday, July 2nd to Wednesday July, 4th. While I still am not clear about the conference theme for the year: Keeping An Open Mind as this could be the generic title for any year or conference on education, the presenters, the workshops, the variety of styles and content and conversation was nothing short of amazing!

The ETAI conference boasts celebrated educators and experts from our own Jerusalem to the far reaches of our small globe. The conference was preluded by a mini-conference at David Yellin College in Bet HaKerem where the British Council facilitated a day of professional learning with Gavin Dudeney, Leo Selivan, Jane Cohen, and Elana Salomon. Since for both the mini-conference and the conference courses ran concurrently I will highlight mostly those that I attended and can provide insight firsthand.

INTEGRATING TECHNOLOGY INTO LANGUAGE LEARNING

PRE-CONFERENCE

Gavin Dudeney began the morning at the pre-conference with a detailed ride through the internet most of us call a second home today. Yet, he involved the audience in an  intimate exploration of the use of copyright and creative commons images, advanced image Google searches, and the use of Wikipedia content and the use of the Simple English edition for EFL/ELA learners and teachers. With humor and style Gavin touched upon the modification of images in classroom projects and curriculum, the use of tools such as YouTube and TeacherTube in appropriate ways for teachers, and addressing the overall concept of digital literacy for educators and our students.

 Leo Selivan simultaneously offered a workshop about online games in the classroom for English Language Learners.

For the next workshop I attended Elana Salomon’s Literature 2.0: Integrating Technology into the Unit Planners where she studiously and expertly simplified intimidating technology and created a space of access and appreciation for a wealth of online tools. These tools included: www.lino.com, www.artpad.com, www.wikipages.com, www.wordle.com, www.glogster.com, www.voki.com, and www.wallwisher.com. Elana’s presentation focused on reinforcing skills appropriate to Ministry of Education Standards for the Bagrut and the Literature curriculum for high school. The workshop addressed 21st century skills, collaborative learning environments, student constructed knowledge and creativity, HOTS(higher order thinking skills), and the endless educator pursuit of active participation via student initiated content.

Concurrent to this workshop Gavin Dudeney addressed the amazing potential of mobile devices in education today.

While Leo Selivan offered a workshop on online lexical tools I opted for Jane Cohen’s e-tivities addressing in detail how teachers can structure curriculum and lessons utilizing online tools. With access to the internet, ideally via a computer lab, or laptops in the classroom, Jane brought to life the very real instantaneous collaborative ability of Wikispaces. The virtual aspect of the lesson still requires refined planning of the educator, but the results can be an integrated and engaging project or curriculum that adheres to curriculum standards, reinforces and promotes English Language and culture, and adapts to multiple intelligence theory and practice.

KEEPING AN OPEN MIND

 CONFERENCE, July 3rd

With a wealth of choices from beginning to end of the conference I chose to first engage with Esther Esses on the rationale and use of images and text to facilitate guided role play and creativity with our learners. The structure and context of role play provides an ideal space for the self-directed/guided practice and acquisition of language(or potentially any other content). The responsibility or relationship of learning shifts from a teacher centered “authority” to student to student interactive model and allows for flexibility and the PRACTICAL application of language in ‘real world’ situations. Mrs. Esses modeled the role play planning process and the very real, fun, and creative results of this rather low-tech, scalable, and valuable resource in our classrooms.

I was tempted next to hear Judy Montagu of the Jerusalem Post address the “lost art” of public speaking but it was hard to miss another presentation by Gavin Dudeney. Speaking to a packed house—some standing in corners and doorways—and with a barely working air conditioning unit Gavin once again brilliantly plotted the title of his talk: “New Literacies”. We examined how the concept of literacy is ever-evolving as traditional literacy and digital literacy concurrently morph and emerge in a very rapidly developing world. Gavin provided a perspective on our world in general and as teachers by encouraging us to not be limited to being consumers of technology but as well producers with that technology or even of technology itself. In doing so our digital literacy of language, information, connections, and redesign can enhance our ability to teach our students how to go beyond being tech “comfy” and how to aim to be tech savvy and tech literate.  “How do we prepare our students, youth, even adults for jobs, roles, and professions that do not yet exist(the technology itself is not yet here)?” was a question posed by Gavin. He answered by imploring us not be concerned with the tools or even the technology as much as the skills, literacy, and processes that will be applied across the board today and into the foreseeable future.

Zvi Ophir in his session on body language stated: “It’s very easy to miss something you aren’t looking for!!” He continued in actively demonstrating how we are prone to miss the majority of “language” being sent to us—and from us—on a daily, hourly, even minute by minute basis. Zvi provided practical classroom techniques and strategies he has utilized in his own classroom and ways to identify body language while avoiding dogmatic conclusions. Zvi stressed that aside from the content and skills of which we are responsible as educators to facilitate for the students in our charge we can also give students something beyond this by recognizing their needs, via body language, and to respond with care, concern, respect, and affirmation.

I chose the next session with a sense of doubt and ambivalence due to my jaded experience with my Master’s program from a decade ago. Yet, I was treated to a wonderful and thought provoking session facilitated by Valerie Jakar. The session was a discussion on higher education and in specific PhD or equivalent level degrees and details about the programs, processes, work, emotion, and strategies in the pursuit of the research and writing of doctoral level theses. The esteemed participants, all women(aside from me), I might add—at various stages in life—shared with candor and clarity their first-hand experiences and ongoing challenges and struggle with academic research and its relevance and application to life and the ‘real world’ classroom. All the participants provided much stimulating and interesting discussion and feedback and provoked my own possible re-thinking of pursuit of another degree.

The session effectively closed with the demonstrated launch of the Learn English Teens website.

A film, the Brook Ellison story, was offered after.

CONFERENCE, July 4th

I began my morning with a cup of coffee and then was treated to a provocative keynote address by Srinivas Kulkarni, Director of The American Center at the United States Embassy. Mr. Kulkarni addressed the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and heterogeneous classroom of our present world and how awareness of differences and differentiation is critical to our role as teachers and in specific as teachers of language. Mr. Kulkarni related how even within “rules” of culture there is individual and familial culture and expectation and civility.

Mr. Kulkarni shared very real, personal, and professional examples of linguistic and cultural difference and nuance and how often our intended message can be received erroneously or sent erroneously. Being aware of our classroom, colleagues, and different learning styles and abilities can be the beginning of adjusting to either a native culture other than ours or to a variety of cultures of people with whom we interact. When we can better understand the context of culture and language, and even personality and intelligence, we are much better prepared for success in our daily purpose and objectives as educators and professionals.

Next session was Damian Ross on Mentoring. The content of the class was about mentoring as well as self-directed teaching development. From the first moments Damian affirmed the participants’ roles as teachers who are “on the ground” and in the primary place to digest and share—with colleagues, friends, teachers, administrators, and students—the professional development and information we learn at such conference and workshops. Moving forward Damian elicited from the group definitions of mentor(within the context of teaching) which included: guide, assistant, supporter, advice bearer, inspirational colleague, and enthusiast. My personal definition was as follows: “how to navigate on a micro levels(planning, curriculum, lessons, content, etc.) and macro levels(administration, politics, parents, perception, beauracracy, etc.) tactically, strategically, mentally, and emotionally the profession and the system.

Damian transitioned beautifully and with grace—while addressing questions and topics relevant but not directly related to the content of his talk—to the question of what are barriers to professional development. Answers included: societal, lack of respect, money, logistics, tools, time, modeling, quality mentors, administrators, and classroom limitations.  Damian encouraged the participants to subsidize our own professional development by asking ourselves a question in the following format:

“I could be more effective if….”

It is best to use such a method within the context of those matters which we can directly or indirectly influence and bring to fruition and expand upon, analyze, and guide ourselves—or with the help of colleagues and mentors when we have drawn blanks—to the solutions!

Damian shared that ideally a mentor helps teachers(or any professional) take control and responsibility for their own development and maturation.  Indeed!

The last workshop I attended was once again Gavin Dudeney(I mean the guy is polished, funny, and has SO much to give!! see his firm here: TheConsultants-E ). He took his plenary talk(reviewed above) and expanded on the concepts by showing just how simple, user friendly, and accessible the technology and tools are for us. He demonstrated and modeled the use of photo manipulation, how the use of audio technology(as simple as a recorder on a phone)  can be used by students for projects in which they will invest their time and efforts with enthusiasm, and how tools such as Wordle have applications far beyond simple cute color renderings.  Gavin conveyed a bigger picture of how these technologies can be threaded together in a project or assignment and keep students’ attention, creativity, and investment while learning appropriate content and applicable skills. The use of some of these technologies encourages: practice, pronunciation, and creativity because they are fun, varied, public(by choice) and connected to their lives.

The session was relevant and pinpointed to our role as teachers of English as a Foreign Language.

The last session I searched for an appropriate class and found myself in the auditorium with air conditioning and speaking to Gavin for some time one-to-one.

The conference closed with several educators presenting at the Pecha Kucha in the main auditorium. Pecha Kucha is a presentation format where each presenter is afforded a strict limit of 6 minutes and 40 seconds for their talk and no more than 20-something slides of 20-something seconds each. The presentations ranged from hobbies such as watermelon carving, to a favorite reading list, to pondering leaving high-tech and returning to the classroom were thought provoking, humorous and fun.

The ETAI Conference this year was powerful and relevant to the classroom and business and any facilitator or educator. This was my first ETAI Conference and I look forward to next year’s!