Dissemination VISA2010 – TESOL Spain

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The 33rd Annual TESOL-Spain Convention took place on March 12-14th in the ancient town of Lleida, the west of Catalunia, Spain. The University of Lleida, the third oldest university of Spain, founded in 1297, was the hospitable and welcoming host for 128 international presenters including Plenary and Keynote sessions, and hundreds of participants from all over the world.

Convention Theme:
Within such a dynamic and ever-changing world, where mobility is a must and cultural diversity a reality, it becomes increasingly important to foster global competence in English, thus enabling the learner to successfully build bridges between these emerging realities.  Therefore, the 2010 TESOL Spain convention theme focused on the concept of acquiring new competences in the EFL classroom:
BUILDING BRIDGES: NEW COMPETENCES IN THE EFL CLASSROOM.
The implementation of competence-based approaches in English language education goes beyond the promotion of communicative competence to include a wider array of personal, intercultural, professional as well as linguistic competences that will help individuals cope with their most immediate surroundings as new circumstances and challenges emerge time and time again.
Plenaries:

Welcome and first plenary

The plenaries, held by seminal professionals, represented the convention highlights. Dr. Neus Figueras presented aspects of reconceptualizing assessment practices according to CEFR. Paul Seligson had a highly practical session that offered loads of simple remedies, techniques, and activities to help teachers fully engage with, teach and improve the four skills: “say half”, “reflect”, be a “video, radio, slowly, etc. teacher”, to meniton just a few. Luke Prodromou’s session reported on research into what good language teachers do, think and believe, looking at some fascinating insights into the role of experience, formative influences, interaction and classroom management.
Sessions:
The convention brought together expertise in English language education not only from Spain but from all over the world. There was so much to choose from. Each day posed a challenging choice for participants as 2 keynotes were scheduled alongside several other extremely important and promising presentations and I found myself torn between anything up to two or three other presentations absolutely worthwhile attending but at the same time forcing myself to be disciplined and obey to the initially expressed choices and interest in IT-based teaching and learning.   
Largely, the presentations focused on teaching to adult learners, Business English, English for Specific Purposes- (tourism, administration, journalism), employment of the New Technologies, exploitation of visuals as well as circus skills, music and mime in order to enhance skills and motivate the learners.
As expected, most presentations were interactive and practical, offering hands-on models of bridging the gap from more traditional approaches in order to ensure an effective learning environment, examples of best practices that can be adopted and adapted to different levels and learning styles.
Topics targeting the teachers’ acquisition and exploitation of digital competences in order to enrich and enhance their students’  learning experiences and move the formation and consolidation of the basic skills into the XXIst century featured high on the programme list.
I had the wonderful chance to meet Graham Stanley from the British Council of Barcelona, whom I had known virtually from the Webheads and BAW09/10 online workshops. He presented two projects taking place in the  3D environment of Second Life, i.e. exploring best practices using virtual worlds. Nicky Hockly from Consultants-E made a very warm and inspiring presentation on Net Advantage: Using ICT in the Classroom. She presented Dvolver movie maker, ‘Time capsules’ with http://dmarie.com/timecap, Internet sites providing interesting facts (http://www.reuters.com.news/oddlyEnough) or odd images (http://news.yahoo.com/photos.odd ) that can be explored creatively by teachers in their endeavour to find memorable and effective pathways towards enhanced, motivating and authentic language communication for their students.
  Russell Stannard, known to us from www.teachertrainingvideos.com chose to focus on some popular and fun to use Web 2.0 tools that can be integrated into language teaching, a presentation which I unfortunately missed, having my own presentation in the same time slot(such an unfair competition!). However, we had the chance to change a few impressions on teaching with technology and talk about mutual interests and acquaintances over a late cup of tea together with a group of friends.

Susana G.M. and Anisoara P.

My presentation on Effective Bridging with Social Networking Speaking Tools offered details about VoxoPop and VoiceThread, two Web 2.0 voice tools that can help raise the students’ confidence in their speaking. Practical examples showed how they can be adapted in order to extend EFL use and exposure, accomodate different levels of proficiency, promote student centeredness and enhance motivation.

Karenne Sylvester, from Kalinago English presented the advantages of Ning – a social-networking platform for language teaching and personal development, whereas Jamie Keddie, founder of TEFLclips, argued about original classroom activities which require some fundamental, yet often neglected teacher speaking skills.
Other presentations looked at what learners should be learning in relation to the ‘soft’ skills that are vital to all areas of our students’ lives, both inside
and outside the classroom or offered new ideas about incorporating ICT in EFL teaching: recycling and creating exercises with Hot Potatoes, exploring the Moodle platform for online learning,  using social bookmarking and collaborative blog writing, employing digital images critically and creatively, using Audacity to create inciting listening practice, making a Portable Interactive Whiteboard. Underlying pedagogical models were discussed in a presentation connected to Wiki-supported materials and activities. Elspeth Pollock presented practical ways and strategies of personalising technology for: getting to know each other with Wordle, Wikipedia, VoiceThread;  vocabulary: Free Mindmaps, Wordsoup, IWB vocabulary ladders, Windows Movie Maker, and Word Magnets; authentic materials from: Babelfish, YouTube, Phrasr.
Two more workshops that I attended, the former on Friday afternoon by Catherine Morley on Speaking as a Skill and the latter on Sunday morning by Ceri Jones on Practical Grammar Activities deserve special mentioning.  Catherine had us practise in groups or with a partner describing (a real/fictional room), using functional language for complementing, refusing politely, complaining, while offering us a wide range of speaking activities starting from Bingo and mini-warmers to more complex “pyramid discussions”. Ceri’s activities, again in a very interactive and student-centered way, demonstrated how texts can be brought to life and used as a springboard for focused language study and practice, more precisely with examples on the passive voice and verbs +to inf/-ing.
In the field of teacher education ideas and models as well as activities which help teachers develop and rise to the challenges in pre- and in-service EFL and CLIL were presented.
The experience of the Autonomous University of Barcelona focused on adapting classroom practice to senior learners – retired people returning to the classroom after a long gap – a project that has been running for four years with special attention being given to adapting methodology to their special needs as older learners. Like adult business English, tourism and journalism students, senior learners may require learning events that are different to a great extent in design and content from those provided for younger learners.

We danced, sang, role-played and wore masks, putting ourselves in the characters’ but most importantly in our students’ shoes,  thus striving to optimize their language learning experiences, to make classes and materials more enjoyable, age appropriate and successful.
There was plenty to take back home as the conference offered a varied programme with a great mix of topics, inspiring ideas. Apart from the wealth of presentations, the convention provided opportunities to job hunt, swap materials, browse through the latest publications at the Publishers’ Exhibition, socialize and network during the coffee breaks, the opening Cocktail on Friday night, and the Saturday dinner. Attending a TESOL international convention for the first time  was a uniquely rewarding  and gratifying experience that crystallizes and amplifies only after the ideas and practical suggestions acquired during the three exciting and fully-packed days begin to be filtered and applied

Acknowledgement:
I am grateful to Grundtvig-LLP and the Romanian National Agency (ANPCDEFP) for offering me the grant to attend this world-wide famous event in the field of English Teaching, to learn about best practices and successful models as well as obtain feed-back on my own practice and research in teaching with the new technologies,  to meet face-to face distinguished scholars and specialists in TESOL, whose inspiring ideas have been influencing my professional life in so many ways: Graham Stanley, Russell Stannard, Jamie Keddie, Nicky Hockly, Karenne Sylvester. I had the chance to enlarge my circle of international contacts, meeting Hilary Plass, TESOL Spain President, Gillian Evans from TESOL France, to strengthen former friendship bonds with Susana Gomez Martinez with whom I have collaborated on research projects, to make initial contacts that may conduct to future Erasmus cooperation, or to chancely meet a Twitter and Talk-box-virtual friend. All these made TESOL Spain Convention a memorable, inspiring and enriching experience and will certainly have a profound impact on my teaching and therefore on my students.

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