Themes from #IATEFL – Time for talking, time for learning…

After reflecting on assessment, teacher training, use of video, mobile learning, gaming, and gamification, it’s time to pick up on a theme from IATEFL that is not so specific but is much more important – taking the time to learn. Well, let me clarify that – not just the time to learn, but the time to learn deeply, the time to learn not just the subject at hand but about the subject at hand, and the time to stop, relax, reflect, and take it all in… (which kind of explains why I am still writing about IATEFL two  weeks after it ended!)

So much to take in, so little time! Image by @sandymillin via #ELTpics

Donald Freeman brought it up first in his opening plenary – the idea that teachers need to stop and think, reflect on what has or hasn’t worked in class and why. Willy Cardoso also touched upon time for teachers to grow when discussing how short a time 12 hours actually is for teaching practice on an ‘intensive’ training course. Nicky Hockly and Paul Driver were two others who alluded to this idea when talking about the need to carefully plan and consider things like mobile learning projects rather than just rushing into them. It was also an inherent part of the Open Space event as we took time to think about and discuss the language teaching issues that were important and meaningful to us.

From the student’s side, Jamie Keddie stressed the need to devote time to training learners how to make good quality videos. Sandy Millin also talked about the time and effort needed to engage students in journal writing and how it could benefit both their learning and our perceptions of their needs as teachers.

It was Candy van Olst’s talk on turning classroom chats into meaningful conversations that really emphasised this point, however. The idea that learning more and more advanced and obscure grammar isn’t really helpful for learners is one that has been with me for a while now but the whole idea of getting them to really engage in a topic and explore the finer points of the most common grammatical structures to help them do that really struck a chord. But what do we need to ensure that happens? Time, of course….

What stops us from having that time? Well, Kieran Donaghy and Anna Whitcher made a very convincing argument that we often tend to get caught up in the blur of moving images that now surround us. We need to slow down and take the time to really look at what we see to truly understand it…. As I have said in the past, don’t just fill the gaps – explore the space.

Or as was said in a classic 1980s teen movie (as it happens, it came up in class earlier this week when adapting one of Kieran Donaghy’s activities from Film in Action)

So what does this mean for me and my students in the classroom? It has (re)emphasised the need for quality over quantity, the need for doing things in a deeper more meaningful way rather than simply covering the ground, the need to focus on what the learners need and not what the course book/syllabus/end-of-course test dictate.

Practically, it does not really help anyone if we do one writing task per week between now and the end of June with little time to review, revise, or improve. It also does not help if we jump from topic to topic just because it’s time to move on. Fewer writing tasks but with more time dedicated to sharing ideas, drafting, giving feedback, responding to feedback, looking at language errors, and redrafting will be of much more benefit as will fewer topics but more depth exploring the issues through conversation.

It’s not so much about ‘less is more’ – it’s about doing more with less. That is when learning really happens and that is my main takeaway from my first IATEFL conference…


  1. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the mention.
    Thinking time/learning time/memorisation time/reflection time - whatever you want to call it, I really feel that it's missing from so many of our lessons. I've had a blog post brewing for ages about ways of incorporating memorisation into lessons - I've done a lot of thinking about it (!) but what I'm short of in that case is the time for action. It's been in the works for about 2 years now! I hope it's something I'll be able to finish at some point in 2015!
    PS Not sure I really added to the discussion here...!

    1. Ah, yes - those brewing posts. I have plenty of those myself! Thinking time is among them. ;-)

      And thanks for adding to the discussion - looking back at recent blog comments, you are one of the only people who actively comments these days!


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