LEND international conference: Humanism in Language Teaching
The biennial conference of LEND (Lingua e Nuova Didattica) which took place in Portonovo (26th to 29th August 2012) was focused on the affective factors in language teaching/learning and more generally on all those factors which contribute to a successful language learning experience.
Here is an overview of the topics tackled during the plenary sessions:
- The role of drama in foreign language teaching and learning: through drama and the multi-sensory, engaging activities connected with it, learners (especially children) can develop not only their linguistic skills, but also their power of expression and imagination and their social and cultural awareness (Mark Almond).
- Intercultural learning: starting from a definition of intercultural learning as "learning about others", "learning from others" and "learning about self through others", the speaker underlined the importance of educational exchanges, which enable students to discover the invisible part of the "cultural iceberg" (the most hidden aspects of a culture), and identified some facilitating factors in intercultural learning (knowledge of self, tolerance of ambiguity...) and some hindering factors (prejudices, social/economic gap...) (Roberto Ruffino).
- CLIL and fine arts: English teachers implement CLIL in language classes any time they introduce content derived from other subjects. The speaker introduced some examples of how teachers can use fine arts to develop their students' understanding of a painting as well as their language skills (Hanna Kryszewska).
- Narratives for Language Learning: stories are a remarkable tool for learning. Instead of regarding reading as a passive activity, it is possible to turn it into a creative learning process by engaging the students in a range of pre-reading and post-reading activities which foster imagination and expressive skills (Fitch O' Connell).
- Language awareness/English prepositions: prepositions often represent an obstacle for students of English as a foreign language. There are many ways to classify them by form, use and meaning; the speaker focused on those ways of grouping prepositions that can help the students to learn them quicker and better (Seth Lindstromberg).
- Repetition as a key element for productive knowledge of language: according to recent research, 80% of what we learn is quickly forgotten. Recycling grammar structures and lexical elements (chunks, collocations) in contextualised and meaningful ways is a good way to ensure retention and optimise the learning process. Some exercises aiming at this purpose were shown during the talk (Daniel Martin).
- Thinking in the EFL Class: how to promote student thinking and use it in the class. Teaching thinking has many advantages: it encourages learners to communicate increasing motivation and it helps teachers to check students' language acquisition. The talk explored the main ideas behind this concept and hinted at some practical activities to encourage teacher and student thinking (Tessa Woodward).
Some of the aspects highlighted during the plenaries were carefully examined in practical workshops. Here is a brief description of the workshops we attendend.
No Scaffolding? No Party! (Shirley Ann Hill) - Students learning English and especially learning in English face a number of demanding challenges. In order to help students in their learning process and foster a deeper learning, teachers have to support them in developing teaching sequences that provide learners with sufficient levels of support. This aid is called "scaffolding" and is withdrawn as soon as learners can skilfully and independently achieve thier tasks. In this practical workshop teachers were asked to identify the factors that bring about progress in the learning process and how these factors influence the choice of language input. A sort of role play was carried out in small groups: teachers took the role of high school EFL students and tested the effectiveness of some sample material. After sharing their findings, the groups produced their own set of materials based on the ideas shared in the first part of the workshop.
Making the Most of CLIL (Hanna Kryszewska) - During the workshop a lot of possible CLIL activities for different school levels and various subjects (science, fine arts, medicine) were explored and directly experienced by the participants. A wide range of books and online material for implementing CLIL was presented, providing interesting insights into the different variables (age, level, subject) which influence the planning of a CLIL lesson. Of particular interest were the activities based on youtube video, songs and wikis. The speaker stressed the importance of a task-based approach: CLIL is most effective when, in planning a lesson, we start from the final product the students have to develop and we find out what kind of language skills the students need in order to reach their goal.
Thinking in the EFL Class Activities for Blending Language Learning and Thinking (Tessa Woodward) - Recently there has been an increased interest in teaching thinking skills. Thinking and the idea of teaching thinking is a potentially very complex area. In this experiential workshop teachers were offered a lot of different, realistic tips and a lot of practical activities carefully planned for language classes. Involving minimal preparation these useful pieces of advice ecourage flexibility , fun and creativity in teacher and student thinking. To give teaching for thinking some extra attention can make us consider the possibility of changing our way of teaching and adopting some new attitudes to foster communication. Simple things like extending wait-time (after asking a student questions and after getting an answer), avoid echoing (repetirion of what a student has just said) and auto-responding, using "thunks" (little questions that make you stop and think about) and interesting puzzles, exploring topics that nobody knows about and learning from what other people in class know, even these little tips can change the atmosphere in a class and unblock communication. Download the handout
From Creative Reading to Creative Writing (Fitch O' Connell) - The first part of the workshop explored a range of short texts and poetry from contemporary English writers and introduced various techniques to enhance creative reading (as opposite to passive reading). The speaker also gave hints on how short films can be exploited in the classroom to use language in a stimulating and meaningful way. The second part of the workshop focused on some engaging and effective techniques for developing creative writing skills. Some of the workshop's proposals can be found at http://www.wordpowered.org/.