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One teacher's experience of the annual IATEFL conference. Vol.2: Hello Liverpool! 😃

Updated: May 3, 2021

Does that seem like a fitting start to this post? Yes! When you hear: Liverpool, you think: The Beatles 😍🎧"

But that's just an added perk. The reason I went to Liverpool was this:

It was my third IATEFL conference. Last year I blogged about it everyday and you can read about here. Blogging about the conference and the sessions I attended made me remember so much more of what I've learnt that I could not NOT do it again this year! So now it's time to share and reflect. This year I am going to write only about the session I liked best. So here goes!

Day 1

The first session I attended was the the first plenary session of the whole event. It was delivered by Paula Rebolledo and dealt with teacher empowerment ... or rather, as it turned out, lack thereof. Rebolledo talked about how in our profession there exists a certain obsession with gurus. We wait for them to give us answers to all our questions and problems. She claims that because of that, we are disregarding and silencing the voices of the real experts - ourselves, the teachers teaching in the actual classrooms around the world. So what really happens is the empowerment of the gurus not the teachers. She said, and I quote, "teachers are used and abused but rarely empowered" in the true meaning of the word. She suggested that one possible way forward is teacher led professional development. But why am writing about all that when you can see it for yourselves here 😀


After the first session a theme started emerging for me. Learner autonomy is a very important and interesting subject for me so naturally I'm drawn to anything with "autonomy" in the title. This year, however, another word seems to be a trigger for me - coaching. I didn't plan it but somehow I've ended up attending five different sessions on language coaching throughout the conference 😅

So, one of the session on language coaching was done by Rachel Paling, director of Efficient Language Coaching and creator of Neurolanguage Coaching®. She said a couple of interesting things and I'd like to mention three of her points:

1) Our brains like certainty so they need to see the big picture ("when will I be fluent?"). She said that what we should do is present our students with the whole concept of, let's say, the PRESENT and then chunk it down and teach the chunks. So the PRESENT would be: Present Simple + Present Continuous + stative verbs + present for future + 0 Conditional. If students see this before they start learning about, eg. Present Simple, they know exactly where they are in their learning process and that "calms the brain down".

2) The brain ALWAYS wants to connect with the native language. She claimed that our brains automatically go to native language comparison when they encounter a foreign language. Paling said that because of this during language coaching you should constantly ask, what she called, powerful questions which are questions relating to the native language of the student, like "what is this in your language", "how do you say that in your language". As a language coach one should provoke the associations with the native language. The more I know about the native language of my student the more I’m able to understand difficulties they might be experiencing.

3) The way we communicate with students can be an emotional trigger. Learning a foreign language is like standing in front of a tiger - it triggers the "fight or flight" reaction of our brain, its survival mechanism. When we tell our students to do things the reaction is often the same, simply because most people hate being told what to do. So as teachers we need to soften the directives: instead of saying "do it" say "can we now move to ...".

Rachel Paling discusses all of her ideas in her book "Neurolanguage Coaching: Brain friendly language learning". You can get the book on Amazon here. My copy is currently downloading onto my Kindle 😁


Another session from day 1 worth mentioning was done by Marcela Harrisberger and was on .... yes, you've guessed it ... language coaching 😅 The title: "Coaching students to success - classroom tools and techniques". So what is coaching anyway? According to Sir John Whitmore "coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them". If you know anything about me you know that learner autonomy is my main interest and this definition screams AUTONOMY 😍 According to Harrisberger teacher-coach has the following roles:

  • to question students assertively

  • to motivate more efficient behaviour

  • to listen actively

  • to promote reflection about learning

  • to facilitate autonomous learning

The most important role of the teacher-coach is to help students learn effectively. It's asking questions like "what do you want to learn and what are you willing to do to learn it"; it's demanding more from your students and not taking nay excuses.

Marcela uses the GROW coaching model. The G in the acronym stands for "goals". Goals are not in our comfort zone so we need to expand our comfort zone little by little. To do so Marcela uses SMART goals with her students:

Marcela shared a tool she uses with her students, which she calls "Strategic Weekly Planner". Is a planning technique which I am definitely going to try with my students!! A student thinks of 3 actions for the upcoming week. They think of a plan B (what if I don't have time; what if I can't get access to a computer, etc.). They think of actions that will limit their learning or interrupt it and they minimise or eliminate them (stop yourself from spending 3 hours on YouTube watching cat videos). After the week is finished they self-assess their work - what worked, what didn't, what to do next time for it to work?

I think this model will work wonders in a Montessori classroom where kids have time for self-study. They can work on their individual SMART goals 😊

Day 2

My favourite session from day 2 of IATEFL 2019 was on what I'm doing right now - Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Kirsten Holt talked about how to activate professional knowledge. She spoke about what to do to remember more from the courses and conferences you attend.

First she mentioned the forgetting curve: if you don't do something with new knowledge you only remember 10% of it a week later. Watch this short video to learn more:

To retain more information Kirsten suggests the BRICK method:

Build up memory strength

Revisit your training and reinforce regularly

Incorporate more active involvement

Create clear and easy to absorb information

Keep it relevant with reading and reflective learning

She mentioned three areas to practise BRICK in: individual, staffroom, and communities of practise. The best way to practise BRICK in the individual area is to use experiential learning - just do it! 😅

How to practise BRICK in a staffroom - share what you've learnt! When you share your knowledge with colleagues there's no dip in your retention! So here I am, sharing with you 😊

And there's nothing more that I'd like than to be a part of a community of practise because you remember more if you compare your reflection with someone else’s reflection. Though I guess that teacher Facebook groups could be referred to as some sort of community of practise so at leat I've got that 😊


Time for another language coaching sessions now 😅 "Encouraging learner autonomy and self-reflection using coaching tools" was the title, Nivashini Gunasegaran was the speaker.

Niva said that language coaching is all about asking questions, and the most important question is "WHY" - "Why do you need English?", "Why do you study English?" but also "HOW can English improve your life?". She suggested using visualisation techniques for students to imagine themselves where they want to be with English. She said it's very important to do it in the present tenses - it tricks the brain into thinking that whatever you're visualising is already true.

She also said that when you’re able to assess your own learning you are able to take learning into your own hands. And for this kind of assessment she uses the Wheel of English.

The wheel works in the following way: in a language coaching session, teacher-coach sits down with a student and asks them what their goals are for each of the aspects you can see around the wheel. This final goal is number 10 on the wheel. Next, teacher-coach asks the student to assess where they are at that point and the student colours the circle in:

The next step is to ask the student what could be done to move on the wheel - they set goals for the next month to get from, let's say 3 to 3,5 or 4. The goal doesn't need to be 10! That wouldn't be a SMART goal 😉

I love the Wheel of English! It gives students something tangible to work with, a reference point to use during assessment. I'm definitely using this one with my kids!


The last session of day 2 was presented by Melissa Perkins, whose website you may visit here. Melissa talked about Kindfulness. Yes, you read that right and no, I did not make a spelling mistake.

Kindfulness = Mindfulness + Kindness + Gratitude

Those are the three things Melissa thinks we should be implementing in out classrooms so that both teachers and students can feel more patient, better focused, more productive, kinder to themselves, and less stressed. It gets us from doing to being.

Mellisa said that implementing Kindfulness in our practise makes us respond to stimulus in a more rational way. Take a look at one of the slides she presented:

So how do we get out students (and ourselves) into the state of feeling Kindful in lessons? Mellisa proposes: Kindful teaching - top of the CLASS:

Create connections - student with other students (changing pairs, various groups); teacher with students; students with the topic or language point (through quotes, videos, and visualisation which engages senses and emotions)

Let go - of perfectionism, strive for progress instead and remember that every mistake is a lesson; of reliance on apps, eg. online dictionaries for each word you encounter

Acceptance and accountability - enjoy the learning journey by celebrating little achievements; as a teacher, be clear about accountability: point out to students that the learning doesn’t stop when they leave the lesson

Self-compassion and self-awareness - recognise individuality of your students; set clear objectives to help build awareness of learning; create end-of-lesson reflection tailored to the lesson objective - don’t ask the same questions after each lesson (e.g. what did you learn today?)

Space - stay present to create internal space; clear your mind; limit distractions (phones); create study space at home

Day 3

Day 3 brought two talks that I'd like to write about. The first one was presented by Maria Davou and the title was "A self-assessment tool to promote learner motivation and engagement". What a title, right? I had hight hopes and I was not disappointed. Maria talked about a project she implemented at her school - My Photo Self Assessment. It is genius in its simplicity! Each student gets assigned a picture at the begging of the school year. The pictures are photographs of famous works of art. The student's task is to describe the picture. Throughout the school year such picture describing session takes place about 8 times. Each time the student gets to describe the exact same picture. But each time this happens, the student knows more language: new vocabulary, new grammar, and even new information about the picture itself, like who painted it and where the original is right now. Each time the description session happens the teacher and the student record the language used by the student and compare it with the CEFR abilities described for the level the student is at. This way our student's progress is clearly documented!

Maria said that kids love it, their parents love it, and the teachers love it! It is a great self assessment tool for the children that requires no points, no grades, no percentages - they simply see how much more they can say about their picture each time they try.

Students see the picture only during the description sessions so they can't prepare for it in any other way that to learn new things in lessons.

It is also a great way to implement CLIL and teach children to talk about works of art in English 😀

Great tool! I think I'll try it in September when the new school year starts.


The other talk was another CPD session and it was about something that I've been wanting to do for a long time now. I went to this talk to get the final push and actually start doing it. The sessions was on filming your own lessons 📹 I did get my final push and you can expect a post at some point in the future about how cringe worthy it is to watch yourself on video but also on what a great professional development tool it is!

Mandy Bright talked about what successful CPD actually is:

  • it gets teachers excited about the teaching

  • it gets teachers talking about teaching

  • it gets teachers planning and evaluating their teaching together

  • it gets teachers observing and learning from each other

  • it gets teachers sharing what works with each other

Successful CPD is differentiated and owned by the teachers - they pick and choose what they want to study and develop in their practice. It is also supported by the school's culture and budget. It encourages reflection.

All of the above can be attained by filming your lessons. It is very important to remember, though, that filmed lessons belong to the teacher. It is he or she who decides who gets to see their lessons. Filmed lesson should also never be used for appraisal unless otherwise agreed upon before the filming took place. Filmed lessons serve the purpose of professional development and can be used in mentoring sessions.

Mandy said it takes at least 4 filmed and watched sessions to actually start appreciating the process and start observing your teaching practice. The first 3 lessons are all about "oh my god! is that what I sound like?!" and "I have to get rid of those trousers" 😂

Don't be too critical of yourself when you watch your lessons. Rather than saying "I'm so stupid, I should not have done that" ask yourself "why did I think that was a good idea at that moment?".

Mandy also mentioned the following advantages of video:

  • video captures the complexity of tasks performed in the classroom

  • it supports discussion with others

  • it helps build reflective skills

  • it increases „reflective noticing” - after some time you’re more likely to notice things in the moment; you became more aware of yourself

Day 4

The last day of the conference 😭 This day is the shortest one of all 4 so there are only a few sessions to attend. If you're into modern technologies and you think you should be using all of them in your lessons, definitely watch the plenary session by Lindsay Clandfield entitled "Methodology, mythology and the language of education technology". It will definitely make you think and look at the whole topic from a different perspective. You can watch it here.


The one session that definitely made an impact on me was "The lexical notebook as a gateway to autonomous learning" by Andrea Borsato. Now, you might think "what's the big deal, it's just a notebook with vocabulary" but the way Andrea presented it really sold it to me and reignited my love for lexical notebooks.

So here are a couple of rules Andrea mentioned about keeping a lexical notebook:

  • students pick what they want to put in their notebook, it is not assigned by the teacher

  • the rule is: notice the language - make note of the language - revise the language by reading

  • the notebook needs to have more than just translation of the word (in fact try to avoid translation if it's possible), it should have definitions, collocations, example sentences

  • once the student feels like they know the word they can remove it from the notebook

  • divide your notebook into categories

  • include categories like "my typical spelling/grammar/pronunciation mistakes"

  • when reading articles and other materials, pick the words you like, the words you want to learn, NOT all the words you don't understand

  • in texts look, around the words - take note of them in context

Andrea is certain that keeping a lexical notebook makes learners enjoy the learning process and increases their motivation and autonomy. Autonomous learners are intrinsically motivated, willing to take responsibility for their own learning and aware of their preferred learning strategies. Keeping a lexical notebook is a great means to develop those traits.

Learners take pride in their notebooks! Organise a comparing session! Have student show their notebooks to each other, share new words they came across, share note taking techniques. I know my kids will love doing that, they're very artsy so I'm sure some of those notebooks will be beautiful (on top of being useful) 😊

Andrea also mentioned a great way to work with videos. His students watch YouTube videos first without subtitle. Each time a student struggles to understand something, they stop the video and listen to it again. They can do that many times. On a piece of paper they take a note of what they think they've heard, with the timing of the clip. When the student watches the video again they have the subtitles on. This time when they get to the parts which they struggled to understand they focus on the subtitles. They then check the meaning of the words or grammar they didn't understand and make a note of it in their lexical notebook. After a few days the student revises the notes they took and watch the video again without subtitles. At this point their understanding is much higher than at the first viewing. Brilliant, isn't it?! 😍


So there you go! That's my experience, my new ideas to try and inspirations. You can watch some of the sessions on the British Council website here. I'm going to watch some of the ones I didn't get to see live.

I'm also planning to write a post about how to use and organise what you learn at a conference to get the most out of it. Because writing this post is just the beginning 😉

Oh, and one more thing! I could live in Liverpool 😍

Have fun attending conferences,

Ewa ;)

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