Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Teaching Conference and Meeting An Idol

The second half of July had one big highlight for me: the IATEFL Chile conference in Santiago.

For those who are not familiar with the acronym, IATEFL stands for the International Conference for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language.  Every year they have a conference with workshops, speakers, vendors, and teachers from all over Chile and sometimes from other parts of Latin America.  The plenary speakers could come from all over the world, and it's always exciting to meet and hear from experts in English language teaching.

The conference was Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th, and due to my work schedule I had to teach my Friday morning class.  Luckily my boss was able to give me the rest of Friday off.  I missed the opening ceremony and first plenary speaker, but I still got to attend most of Friday.

As with each conference I go to, there was an interesting mix of presentations.  A few were really useful, some were ok, and unfortunately some were not really that great.  Despite that, it was good seeing professional contacts that I hadn't seen since similar events last year.

There were three presentations that really stuck out to me.

The first one was by Gustavo Gonzalez.  He presented about small ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.  He showed some websites and tools we can use that we can prepare and use in class that don´t require an internet connection, and he gave really good examples of what he´s done in a variety of ways.  He was really enthusiastic, and it seemed like it rubbed off on everyone who attended.

Another one was by Paul Seligson.  His big thing is about being sure that we are teaching to the needs of our students (Spanish speakers as opposed to any other language) and to not feel boxed in or restricted by textbooks that dumb down what students are capable of understanding and communicating.  He also encourages teachers to use comparative strategies between English and Spanish to help students think about similarities and differences between the languages and help their learning.  His sociocultural approach really struck a chord with me, as I also like to draw upon what my students know to build a foundation for their learning.

I got to chat with him a bit after his presentation, and he was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me.

The last speaker was Stephen Krashen.  Yes, THE STEPHEN KRASHEN.

For those readers who aren't familiar with him, Stephen Krashen has been (in my opinion) the most influential researcher and contributor to language teaching and second language acquisition from the 20th century until now.  He has written over 450 scholarly articles about effective language learning and has traveled all over the world to speak to and inspire teachers.

I remember learning about his theories of comprehensible input, the affective filter, and the silent period (just to name a few) as an undergraduate at Occidental, and they formed the basis of my learning for effective language teaching.

He captivated me for two hours.  He's a real storyteller and used dramatic pauses, real life stories related to his research and that of others, and anecdotes about his family.  He came across as really down to earth, and after his presentation he made himself available to talk to people, sign autographs, and take pictures.

Seeing that I went to college in Los Angeles and he was an education professor at USC, you'd think that I would have had the chance to meet him.  That didn't happen during my 8 years in California, but it happened here in Santiago.

I was nervous as I approached him.  I shook his hand and thanked him for the presentation and told him about my undergraduate experience learning about languages and how much he has influenced my teaching career.  I then got a picture with him:

Meeting Stephen Krashen was something that was on my professional bucket list, and it was a really amazing experience to have met him.

The conference gave me a lot to think about in regards to my teaching style, how I and my students use Spanish in the classroom, and finding small ways to incorporate technology into my teaching.  I'm glad I went and I'm already looking forward to the next conference (TESOL Chile) in October.

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