Alternative Proposal for IATEFL Global Get-Together 2020

IATEFL’s proposal for a global get-together is a disappointing, lack-lustre programme that perfectly reflects its status as the stuck-in-the-mud, unimaginative voice of current, commercially-driven ELT practice. The perfect example of this lamentable state of affairs is that Catherine Walters, one of the most reactionary voices in ELT over the last four decades and President of IATEFL in 1993, is asked to address the most crucial issue currently facing us, namely, how to adapt classroom teaching to distance learning. The blurb for her presentation Losing Our Bells and Whistles: Will asynchronous teacher education return? suggests that she’ll do nothing more than warn teachers of the perils of cutting edge innovation. “Keep it simple!”, she’ll say. “Don’t try any clever synchronous stuff – it always goes wrong!”. That’s it: that’s IATEFL for you.

As for the rest of the programme, what can we find that might possibly drag us away from Netflix? The President’s address? Tell me a President’s address that you remember anything about! Will poor David Crystal, dragged out yet again, this time to promote the new edition of his Big Book do more than entertain? I doubt it. How about somebody selling a commercial Business English test? Definitely not. And advice on how to be mindful, or eulogies to young learners as global citizens? Useless pap is my guess. The only things that might be interesting are the local reports, but they’re not properly situated or focused.

Here’s my suggestion.

Re-examining Principles of ELT

All sessions last 2 hours. They’re round table discussions with a Moderator. Each speaker has 10 minutes. Questions are sent in to the organisers

Session 1: How do people learn an L2? : S. Gass, N. Ellis, M. Pienemann, S. Carroll, K. Gregg

The main debate these days is between emergentists (we learn from input from the environment) and nativists (we learn with help from innate hard wiring). Where are we now? What principles can we agree on which will underline our work as teachers?

Session 2: Teaching implications of SLA Findings: L. Ortega, A. Benati, M. Long, H. Marsden, H. ZhaoHong, H. Nassaji

Recent research findings have challenged previously accepted meta-analyses. Where are we now? Most importantly: can we agree on the relative importance of explicit and implicit teaching?

Session 3:  Syllabus design:  R. Ellis, M. Swan, M.Long, S Thornbury, C. Doughty

The big debate today is between synthetic syllabuses, as implemented in General English Coursebooks, and analytic syllabuses, like Long’s TBLT and Thornbury & Meddings Dogme.  This is probably the second most important question of them all. We need to clarify all the “false” alternatives and agree on principles for syllabus design and materials production.

Session 4: Distance Learning: G.Mottram, G. Dudney, C. Chapelle.

Tech experts present their platforms and respond to questions sent in by participants prior to the conference. .

Session 5: ELT as a profession: TEFL Workers Union, N. McMilan, S. Millin, S. Brown, R. Bard.

The most important question of them all. How do we improve our lot? How do we organise?  Ideally, we should produce a Manifesto.

Session 6: Hope For the Future: T. Hampson, M. Griffin, J. Mackay, K. Linkova, L. Havaran

This is my own, very personal choice of teachers, new and old, whose voices need to be heard.

A 2-day programme, properly organised, would allow the invited speakers to briefly state their cases and for discussion to ensue. I think the success of the event would depend on careful monitoring and follow up. The organisers would have to edit the material and then get back to contributors to help compile really solid take away stuff. Ideally, we’d have Summary Statements on each of the 6 issues and the beginnings of a network.

I’m confident that I could organise such an event if

  1. Neil McMillan did it with me (I haven’t even mentioned this to him yet!)
  2. We had a small group of helpers, and
  3. we had some cash.

I invite comments.