Tag: conference

Getting the (Conference Speaker) Balance Right

Getting the (Conference Speaker) Balance Right

There’s been a lot of talk about this recently – getting the balance right. The balance between men and women, between native and non-native speakers at ELT events and conferences. 

I’ve fairly recently joined the committee of an IATEFL SIG. I’m on the events team. So these kinds of ‘balance’ topics are more pertinent to me now than ever. 

This post is not really a ‘How to’: In fact, it’s me just kind of getting my thoughts in order, my pondering on the subject. There might be some tips, but this is definitely a request for more ideas!

So, let’s say we’re going to organise an ELT event. We put out a call for proposals. Various things could happen, and it’s how to deal with these that I want to talk about in this post. 

Scenario 1. We want someone to host a workshop. We review the submissions ‘blind’, i.e. without any information about the potential speaker who has submitted them. Proposal A fits the theme of our event, has a good balance in favour of practical ideas, includes interesting workshop activities, and sounds like it would be a good fit for our event. Proposal B is only loosely connected to the event’s theme, sounds too theoretical for a workshop, and the activities don’t sound like they would fit in the workshop time-slot. I’m guessing we want to accept Proposal A. Right?

And then we find out that the speaker who submitted Proposal A happens to be a white, male native speaker. Proposal B came, let’s just say, from someone who didn’t fit all of those labels. We are keen to avoid all-male or all-native-speaker presenters at our events. Should we accept Proposal B in order to fulfil this aim, and risk providing a less good workshop for our participants? I’m not really in favour of ‘positive discrimination’ in this case if it may endanger the quality of the event.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Contact the person who submitted Proposal B and explain its weaknesses, asking for a re-submission. (This might take time we don’t have. And is it fair?)

– Find another way to include Proposal B, such as a poster presentation, so that the speaker can gain experience, get their voice heard, and hopefully submit a more fitting proposal next time. (If possible…)

– Accept it this time, and keep the person who submitted Proposal B in mind for a future event.

– Extend the deadline in the hope of receiving more proposals. (This might take time we don’t have.)

– In future, provide more specific guidelines for speaker proposals. (This doesn’t solve our immediate problem.)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]


Scenario 2: We are looking for 6 speakers for a conference. We receive 5 proposals. All of them are from male native speakers. We could arrange the day to include 5 talks and a panel discussion with those speakers. We are keen to avoid all-male or all-native-speaker presenters at our event, but if we don’t accept all of the 5 proposals, we won’t be able to fill the day.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Extend the deadline in the hope of receiving more proposals. (This might take time we don’t have.)

– Invite late proposals from other (female / non-native) speakers and re-evaluate the selection. (This poses a new set of questions:  Does this seem unfair? Who do you choose to invite a proposal from?)

– Invite other (female / non-native) speakers to take part in the panel discussion. (This poses a new set of questions: Who do you choose to invite? Should it then be an all-female panel – is that ‘positive discrimination’?)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]


Scenario 3: We are co-organising an event with a sponsor, e.g. a publishing company. We agree that we will select 5 speakers from the proposals we receive, and they will send 5 speakers (maybe editors, authors, sales reps, etc.). We choose 3 female and 2 male speakers, of whom 3 are native and 2 are non-native speakers. We think we’ve got a pretty good balance. But the sponsoring company decides to send 5 male native speakers to hold talks at the event.

So what else could we do?

– Cancel the event. (This is probably the least favourable outcome for everyone involved.)

– Express our concerns and ask them to send alternative (female / non-native) speakers. (Not sure how well this would go down?)

– Change our speakers so they are all female non-native speakers. (How fair is this on the others we wanted to accept?)

– [What else could we do? Answers on a postcard, please!]

From all of this pondering, what have I / we learnt? OK, so I invented the scenarios and plucked the numbers out of thin air, just to make the point. But I think you get what I mean! But, well, sometimes we might just be in a bind and not be able to change he situation. We might end up with a line-up which seems to proliferate the male native-speaker presenter bias among conference speakers /workshop hosts that we want to discourage. People will complain – but maybe they don’t understand the difficult situation we are in. Still, at the very least, we can change how we approach our event organisation in the future. And if we’re planning an event in good time, which most of the time I’d guess we are, we might (should) be able to make that extra effort to move towards a better gender and non-/native speaker balance.

It seems to me, though, that some of the roots of the problem do not lie within the powers of events organisers. For example in Scenario 2 – why do we have so few proposals? Why are none of them from non-native speakers/ women? Perhaps the call for proposals was poorly advertised, not targeted at a wide range of potential speakers? That we could fix. But if lots of people (including women and non-native speakers) saw the call, then why did they not submit a proposal? I’m not the first one to say this, and I surely won’t be the last, but I think there must be reasons why these groups sem to put themselves forward for talks less often than others. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, maybe time or money concerns, or maybe extra-professional issues. Whatever it is, probably one of the most effective ways to avoid scenarios like the ones I invented here would be to somehow help these potential speakers  see themselves as potential speakers. But the ‘How to’ on that topic will have to be another post!


IATEFL 2016 Birmingham – What I’m hoping for

I didn’t go to IATEFL’s annual conference last year.  I just somehow thought that I’d been to so many conferences and just wasn’t getting enough out of it; no value for money, so to speak. To be honest I think I felt a bit jaded: always trying to ‘make the most’ of attending conferences, writing copious notes, and scratching my brain for ways to include all of this new input into my teaching for the next term. I wanted to hear as many talks as possible, get as many inspection copies as possible, try to make as many “innovative” changes to my planned courses as possible, network, and of course at some point eat and sleep. Actually it was quite exhausting when I look back. Not only, but also. 

This year I have decided to attend, and present at IATEFL again. Because it is now clear to me that I was lacking a focus. And that is why I’m making this ‘list’ if you like, of my aims for IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham, so that I can use my time more effectively and start moving towards some of my longer-term goals. And maybe some you will join me along the way!

So what is it that I’m hoping for from IATEFL 2016?

  • A successful presentation

My talk is on Friday 15th April, 11am, in Hall 10a: “Marking writing: feedback strategies to challenge the red pen’s reign.”

I’m hoping for a good level of interest, no matter how many or few people are in the audience, and I hope that at least one thing in my talk will be new to them, inspire them, get them thinking, and open up space for conversations on the topic of correcting EFL students’ written work. I would love for this to lead to in-depth discussion, exchange and networking, and maybe even research collaboration beyond the conference week.

  • Meeting publishers

I have come to realise that I love writing materials, worksheets, lesson ideas, teachers guides, etc., and that one of my longer-term goals would be to do some paid work in this area. I’d love to engage with publishers’ representatives in Birmingham (or otherwise!), to hear about what kinds of directions their companies are moving in regarding future publications/materials, what kinds of  writers they’d be looking for, and just in general how I might start to make a move into writing for publication.

If any publishers are reading this: I’ll be at IATEFL with my CV and would love to meet you! My areas of expertise include EAP, academic/essay writing, presentation skills, grammar, and translation (German-English).

  • Meeting materials writers

As is clear from the bullet point above, I’m looking to start getting into writing  for publication, and would love to get to know fellow teachers who have made this move or somehow got their foot in the door, so to speak! I’d love to hear about your experiences, and (maybe… if I ply you with coffee/wine/beverage of your choice) your secrets and tips on how I could follow in your footsteps!!

  • Meetings new EAP contacts and friends

One of the biggest benefits of attending conferences like IATEFL is all the networking! I have made some good friends and contacts by striking up a conversation after a presentation, or over the free tea & coffee! And I hope to continue this tradition and expand my circle of friends and colleagues, and my online PLN. I’m particularly looking forward to sharing experiences and stories about EAP in different contexts, or from budding academics like myself, and just in general enjoying the evenings in Birmingham in a nice relaxed manner with colleagues and friends on a similar wave-length!  So please do say “hi” if/when we see each other next week!

So, all that’s left to say is…

Have a safe journey, and I hope to see you in Birmingham!

7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 7) Conferences

So, it’s the last day in my 7 days of posts on CPD for ELT teachers. If you’ve missed any so far, here are the links…

  1. Blogs 
  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks 
  3. Magazines & Journals 
  4. Peer Observation 
  5. Professional Organisations 
  6. Seminars & Workshops

All of the first six ‘ways’ could be done from the comfort of your own home, though I of course do recommend getting dressed and leaving the house at some point!! Today’s way will most likely mean spending some time away from your sofa/desk/own home, as today I’m going to convince you that a part of your CPD should definitely be attending

  • Conferences

I believe that all the other forms of CPD are extremely beneficial, but for a true boost to your insight, understanding, inspiration and motivation, there is no better way than attending a conference! There are so many reasons why that would, and do, fill multiple blog posts on their own. But here’s a few that occur to me immediately:

  • abundance of networking with like-minded people
  • opportunities to hear ‘big names’ speak
  • chance to keep up-to-date with latest trends and developments in ELT
  • gathering ideas and materials for the classroom
  • getting involved in current debates surrounding ELT
  • growing understanding of ELT in a wider context
  • the feeling of belonging to a professional community 
  • a chance to present and share your own ideas or research
  • free stuff (pens, bags, copies of textbooks, mugs, key chains, etc!). 🙂 

There are so many ELT conferences out there, and participating in all of them would take up an enormous amount of time and money – and probably not be a worthwhile use of your efforts! So how can you decide which conferences to attend? 

12805715_10156595096075464_1308734260307728059_nI attend different conferences with different purposes in mind. One of the first conferences I attended was a one-day event hosted by ELTAF in Frankfurt (Germany). There was a plenary, four sessions where I could choose form a number of workshops/talks to join in, and plenty of chances to network during the coffee and lunch breaks. I went along with the specific aim in mind of gettting to know other EFL teachers in Germany. At the time I was pretty new to teaching, so it was great to here from colleagues how the state-school and university systems worked regarding language teaching, and some issues that might arise in my classrooms and how I might want to tackle them. I was tired from travelling there for just one day, but I definitely achieved my aims. 

A couple of years ago I attended another one-day conference organised by a local ELT organisation, MELTA in Munich. It was an EAP Day. My aim this time was to meet others teaching EAP and discuss some of the biggest current challenges, exchange thoughts on textbooks and resources, and maybe share my own knowledge of how to ‘get in’ to teaching EAP. Again, I had a really lovely day, achieved exactly these aims. And even met up with an old colleague I knew from a previous job! 

The point is, I think, that you should choose a conference that matches your current CPD focus and in general your interests within ELT. Not every conference will cover every area of CPD or ELT, but if you select wisely and invest in the most relevant ones to you, then attending the conference will be extremely rewarding!

I suppose I can’t really write a post about ELT conferences without mentioning “the big two”: IATEFL annual conference and Assn TESOL yearly international convention. 

I’ve never been to the TESOL international convention. But I know a man who has. And here’s what he has to say about it: “TESOL 2015 was my first international conference for English language teaching. Although I thought TESOL would be a very exciting four-day experience, I was not expecting to be as inspired as I was. I spent that entire first day of the conference preparing to present two of my projects, which in hindsight was a waste of a day. I attended as many sessions as I could, most of them relating to my interests in global issues and social responsibility. I hardly slept! In my opinion, the best and most important aspect of TESOL is the networking. TESOL offers many opportunities to network with fellow teachers, teacher trainers, linguists, and scholars. I became friends with many inspiring, positive, motivating TESOLers by just attending the LGBTQ+ gathering the first night of the conference. Presentations are great; they are full of inspiring messages and new ideas. However, by becoming friends with these scholars, it alerted me to their very important research in TESOL. Because of networking, I even had the chance to meet Dr. Marianne Celce-Murcia and Dr. Bonny Norton, two of my biggest TESOL heroes. I became life-long friends with other researchers whose work I have used as my foundation for the way that I approach my teaching. Attending TESOL was a game changer for me. I highly recommend attending at least once.” Thanks @mitchell_jamesd !!

IMAG0245IATEFL’s annual conference, on the other hand, has been graced by my prescence for a number of years! 🙂 The first year I went, I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. It is BIG! Four days, from 9am – 6pm, about 15 sessions per day, and a choice of 10+ talks/workshops/presentations during each of them, plus a big exhibition of publishers etc. I was determined to get the most out of it, but I hadn’t set myself any real goals, so I just tried to attend every single session, run round the exhibition in the lunch break, and speed-network in the coffee breaks! Well, by the afternoon of day two I had to go back to the hotel and lie down in a dark, quiet room, with a pounding headache. Too much!! And this is why I say, set goals and select wisely! Having learnt my lesson the first year, I’ve been back again and again and always return to the classroom brimming over with ideas, inspiration and motivation, even more passion than usual, and often a few more contacts and an expanded PLN! I definitely recommend attending at least once, if you can – and this year is the 50th annual conference, so it promises to be an especially good one!


By the way, I will be at IATEFL in Birmingham next month, and will be presenting on the topic of “Marking writing: feedback strategies to challenge the red pen’s reign” on Friday 15th April, 11:00 – 11:30, in room Hall 10a, as part of the TEASIG Day. Please do come along and say hello!!

In selecting a conference to attend, and in setting yourself some aims or goals, I’d suggest returning to the framework I presented on Day #1:

Reflect   —   Plan   —   Act   —   Evaluate

Reflect on areas of your teaching and career you’d like to improve and develop in, plan which conference to attend and which talks/woskhops etc, attend, and then evaluate how helpful this was, how you can apply what you heard/learnt to your own work, and what other gaps in knowledge you’d like to fill. And once you’re in this cycle, you can continue developing professionally – CPD through conferences! 🙂

Further Reading:

Borg, Simon, “The benefits of attending ELT Conferences”, ELT Journal, August 2014. Available here.

Feedback on Demand: Learner-Directed Feedback on EAP Writing

IMAG0245My presentation this week at IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate was entitled “Learner-Directed Feedback: A useful tool for developing EAP writing and academic skills?”. It was a report on a small action research study I recently conducted on what I’m (for the moment) calling ‘Learner-Directed Feedback’. I’m aware that this may be slightly misleading to some, particularly when it’s confused with peer feedback or peer review – any ideas for a better term are welcome! For now, I’ve adopted a fun term suggested by my colleague as the title of this blog post: Feedback on Demand (but don’t worry, there’s no subscription fee!)

I define Learner-Directed Feedback as follows: Learners ask to receive feedback in a certain format and on specific aspects of their written work. The feedback is given by the teacher, but the learners ‘direct’ how and on what they receive feedback comments. In order to ‘direct’ the feedback, learners can often choose between various modes of delivery (e.g. email, electronic document, audio recording, face-to-face consultation), and are usually required to pose specific questions about their language and text to which the teacher responds. More details on instructions given to students working with this method of feedback can be found here: LDF Instructions

Here are the slides – I’ve edited them to include a little more detail which was part of my speech, in case you weren’t able to be there, or didn’t take very good notes! 🙂

IATEFL 2014 Learner Directed Feedback

I would welcome any comments or questions on what I have ‘said’ – please post them below.


Other Useful Links

The conference programme: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sites/iatefl/files/pages/harrogate-2014-conference-programme.pdf


See also: http://eltcattheuniversityofsheffield.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/new-ideas-on-feedback-from-iatefl-2014.html