It is motivating to discover new pedagogical ideas and over the past two years, many of us have challenged ourselves by moving our teaching practices online. Another year on, and it feels like an injection of inspiration is what is now needed and the innovative classroom practices sessions during the IATEFL YLTSIG’s 35th Anniversary Web Conference certainly provided this.

Where media literacy education meets English language teaching – Joan Kang Shin

Media is everywhere and it is important for secondary-aged students to understand and be able to critique different forms of media. Luckily, Joan’s plenary had many practical ways to develop these skills with teenagers based on the English for Media Literacy of Educators MOOC co-developed with her university academic team.

Here are Joan’s four main suggestions:

  1. Raise awareness: students create a 48-hour log of media they use. This is a good idea for enabling students to describe their use of media in English.
  2. Build skills to analyse media: use the NAMLE framework for Q&A routines which develop the skill of giving evidence-based answers. Joan referred to Ernest Boyer’s quote about the importance of teaching critical literacy e.g., how to spot a stereotype or social clichés.  She demonstrated this using an advertisement with noticing questions. 
  3. Build skills to create media: students read and write media messages and she gave an example of the typical topic of ‘hobbies’, starting with questions to create a flyer. The ‘multimodal’ flyer could include photos, words, emojis – all very common nowadays. This was followed by other students analysing the flyer with a Q&A session to improve the design.
  4. Create media literacy lessons: teachers can analyse the coursebook and extend their lessons using media literacy. Joan gave an example of the three types of language in CLIL that would be useful when creating a media literacy lesson.

I agree that to prepare learners for the real world, we need to integrate media literacy in English language teaching and use multimodal communication as authentic materials. The examples Joan shared were extremely useful and the suggested tasks look motivating, easy to set up and meaningful for secondary-aged students. You can watch Joan’s plenary session here.

STEM education and eSports – Damien Aldridge

This engaging talk inspired me to think further about how I might use game-based learning in the classroom with applications like Minecraft or TinkerCAD. Damien explained how students can first develop concepts and skills in a certain discipline using task-based learning. He then gave examples of how they can use the skills from two or more disciplines to solve a problem or create a new solution. This led me to visit the Minecraft site which has a whole section to help teachers. 

Damien suggested that eSports is an area that can lead to a huge number of jobs in the future. It has traditionally been viewed as a lonely hobby but with the changes in gaming, students can play in groups, strategizing their moves and negotiating with the other players. If there is educational output, this would give students meaningful use of English. After planning and building, students can then reflect and evaluate and continue experimenting. ESports is an area that some students are already engaged in and game-based learning with its development of real-world skills is here to stay. You can watch Damien’s Inspire session here.

Evidence-based teaching: how research findings can help us teach – Patricia Harries

This eye-opening talk made it clear that there is a need to do more research in YL ELT to help us improve our teaching. To justify her ideas, Patricia referred to several research findings to challenge multiple teaching myths:

  • Students will not benefit greatly by being taught according to a supposed learning style.
  • Short-term memory is only likely to handle four new vocabulary items if students are totally unfamiliar with them. 
  • Prior knowledge is needed to move something from short-term memory to long-term memory. This means we should make connections to students’ prior knowledge, e.g., similarities between L1 and L2 by discussing in L1 or building on words / expressions that they already know in L2.
  • Spacing practice of language items over a period can also help students consolidate new learning. This gives time to forget and be reminded which increases ‘storage strength’.
  • Testing can be used not only for assessment but also as a learning tool by giving low-stakes tests, e.g., self-tests, pair tests. This can build a positive attitude about taking tests, enhance neural links of retrieval in the long-term memory and students are likely to recognise areas needing further learning.

I enjoyed learning more about the links between theory and how it can influence our teaching practice. I know many teachers who would benefit from the myth-busting tips that Patricia outlined, and it is hugely helpful to see that her tips are based on research. You can view Patricia’s talk here.

Implementing agency-based approaches in secondary English language education – Dirk Lagerwaard

Dirk’s talk started by focusing on the Council of Europe (2020) objective to empower the learner “as a social agent, acting in the social world and exerting agency in the learning process”. But what is ‘agency’ and how do we do this? ‘Agency’ according to Dirk is ‘the capacity to consciously make emotionally influenced decisions on how to express yourself in relevant contexts’. What we say is dependent on many things including our emotions and beliefs and the context in which we are communicating. It is a complicated but interesting definition which he then went on to explain.

The communicative classroom itself can enable agency by giving students the opportunity to discuss the language and develop knowledge together. However, an important aspect of agency is enabling learners to take a position and give an opinion to express themselves. Interestingly, in an example activity Dirk suggests going back to L1 to enable learners to use their own way to express themselves, e.g., ‘Que pasa?’ in Spanish as a greeting and then writing it in English (What’s up?) For the speaking task, he recommended first having students create evaluation criteria together to ensure they are aware of aspects of good interaction. 

I liked Dirk’s constant reminder throughout his focus on agency, that teaching can develop not just language skills, but the learners themselves. He challenged us as secondary English language teachers to create our own agency-based activities to empower learners. You can watch Dirk’s talk here.

Embracing social media in the secondary English language classroomGreg Wagstaff

Greg highlighted the amount of time that students spend on social media each day and ways that we might exploit this in ELT to make tasks more meaningful:

  • Enabling students to use their phones for email writing practice / telephone conversation practice / agreeing or disagreeing on a social media posts.
  • Use voice notes on students’ phones to teach reported speech, e.g., planning a birthday. Use photos to teach wishes and regrets.
  • Use famous movie lines on YouTube to practice reported speech and bloopers to practice wishes and regrets.
  • Set up a chat on WhatsApp with deleted messages. Students use this to predict what the message might be, leading to more creativity. I loved Greg’s idea of perhaps getting students to produce the chat conversation with deleted messages instead of the teacher.
  • Self-assess pronunciation by using the speech to text app on Google.  Pronunciation work can therefore be set for homework.

Greg’s talk was full of practical ideas that we can use in the secondary English classroom to motivate learners. I can’t decide on my favourite as there were so many, but you can view Greg’s talk here.

To sum up

The strand themes included using multimodal media to reflect the real world, motivating learners by including topics they are familiar with, developing agency to help them to be more confident and recognising the importance of research. ELT and our learners are changing which requires increasingly creative ways to meet ever-changing needs. This might mean there is a whole new teaching world to discover and these sessions offer a plethora of ideas to help us along the way.