A real live meeting with colleagues is one of the most motivational annual events for me. In January 2019, the regional Winter Methodology School organized by the local ELT Association turned fifteen. More than two hundred EL teachers and educators from Siberia, Moscow, the Far East, Longman-Pearson representatives, Cambridge International Exam specialists and two English Language Fellows from the USA gathered together to make their presentations and conduct workshops, to discuss the current problems, and simply to socialize. If you ever come to Siberia in winter, you may hear this joke: when the temperatures drop to -40, it is definitely the time for the EL methodology school! Actually it was -20C during the day, rapidly falling down to the unimaginable -49C at night. The Arctic cold was no obstacle to our intense work. Nor did it stop EL teachers from coming to listen to Hugh Dellar who came all the way from London to talk about his teachers’ books.
The main topic of the Winter School was “Raising the Awareness of Building up Successful Strategies in Learning and Teaching English.” The plenary presentations and seminars were devoted to the familiar and yet constantly evolving problems which challenge every EL teacher on a daily basis.
• Raising student motivation.
• The new approaches to teaching how to perform academic writing in English.
• Preparing academic articles for publication.
• Teaching students how to be productive and how to acquire the two productive skills, writing and speaking.
• Exam preparation.
• New textbooks and other materials.
We listened to a fascinating report by Elena Melekhina, the EL Assciation President, on the importance of the continuous education and professional development of teachers. Indeed, one should always begin with oneself. How much do I know? What about my own skills? Do I need to work at my pronunciation, my intonation, my grasp of vocabulary? The Moscow speaker Anna Gorizontova talked about the ways a “good exam” is prepared. Which tasks should be included? Which textbooks used? How are the criteria formed? One of the younger local presenters spoke flawless English, complete with all the sounds and intonation.
The first presentation by the American specialist Rachel Koch left the listeners dissatisfied. Naturally it is always a great bonus when we get a chance to listen to a native speaker. But the content of the talk excited later discussions in the hallways. Why? Many teachers, maintained our guest, are overwhelmed by their work. She suggested 7 Tips for Writing a Lesson Plan. We should start, she said, by thinking out our goals. What do I want from students? Which topics are important for ME? I would say that student-oriented approach pays a hundred per cent. It is easy to make the whole lesson about the teacher. It is much more difficult to first learn as much as possible about the students, and then adjust our plans to their needs. It was quite interesting to hear the point of view, to understand an attitude which is so different from my own and from that of my colleagues.
Johanna Campbell spoke about the rules and regulations, the tricks one can employ to compose a solid persuasive application for a conference or any other educational event. She checked how the audience was following her speech, made some jokes, pointed out the most relevant items in her presentation, and thus kept the listeners’ attention non-stop. Those who wanted to learn more attended her workshop in the afternoon.
I went to the class conducted by Olga Kochenkova, a well-known EL teacher, methodologist and Longman-Pearson representative for Siberia. “Digital Class as the tool to provide continuous evaluation of students' EFL skills development”. MyEnglishLab platform created by Pearson publishers allows an EL teacher to use ICT in the classroom as a tool for education and for evaluating students’ level, their success rate. Every participant, Rachel Koch among them, had a computer station at their disposal. Nine tasks were already downloaded; everybody could choose whether to perform all of them, a few or just one. The teacher stayed at the main station, checking on her colleagues progress, circulating around the class with her assistant to offer help if needed. This program allows one to make individual choices, helps learners solidify their skills, allows the teacher to monitor the activities. The allotted hour passed too soon. Afterwards the teachers continued a lively discussion, exchanging opinions and comments.
The whole experience reminded me of a few recent blog topics. Is Skype communication face to face? Or, can robots eventually substitute humans in teaching? A meeting in real life allows one to establish contacts, to exchange information, to listen to colleagues from various places, to arrange cooperation on projects. The possibilities are endless. Even the Siberian Father Frost cannot stop our desire to communicate!
Nina MK, Ph.D.