The 13th NATE-Russia Annual Conference:
Traditional Way to Speak about ELT Innovations
For a teacher summer is not only a long vacation but time to think over the academic year that has passed, to recall the most memorable events and to reflect about professional experience. The brightest recollection that I personally have from 2006-2007 academic year is that of a conference held by National Association of English Language Teachers (NATE).
The conference is organized annually and covers a number of topics vital for the ELT community. The participants of the conference come from a great variety of cities to discuss new trends in teaching the English language and the English culture at schools and higher educational institutions, selecting the content and methods of teaching, organizing extra-curriculum activities in English, applying technology in the English classroom. The focus of the conference this year was “Teaching Professional English – Enjoying Professional Communication”. Different aspects of it were discussed at plenaries, workshops and within interest groups. Four days of the conference were packed with remarkable reports, meetings and social events. A detailed program of the conference which was presented to all the participants guided us in the world of the latest ideas and approaches. On the whole, 437 teachers from 43 cities took part in the conference.
Each year a new city is chosen to host the conference. This time it was Voronezh. Opening the conference in Voronezh State University NATE-Russia Vice-President Professor Sternina described it as an event of professional growth and professional holiday at the same time, which was really so.
The first day started with pre-conference workshops. The topics discussed included using games, role plays and films in the ELT classroom, teaching communication through multimedia products, and organizing linguistic camps.
At the plenary session the next day the following important and controversial issues were discussed: teaching English at universities: innovations vs. traditions (E. Solovova), translation quality assessment (M. Verbitskaya), technology, creativity and human potential in the ELT classroom (Bridget Gersten), testing English for specific purposes (Chris Scott-Barrett). The presenters not only described the current state of affairs in these spheres, but voiced their opinions about modern trends in teaching and testing English as well as suggesting effective mechanisms of making things better with the help of the professional community of teachers of English.
Then followed concurrent workshops and panels. The participants were delighted to listen to presentations by English Fellows Stephanie Funderberg, Danai Long, Dr. Gersten, Jeremy Slagoski and Sally Barrett who shared their experience of teaching children through games and creative activities. Several workshops were dedicated to organizing summer linguistic camps. For example, Prof. V.D. Shvayko presented English camps of the Ufa region. The report “Developing Positive Communicative and Behavioral Potential in Teenage EL Learners in a Camp Setting” by V. Shvayko and Gulnara Stover showed that linguistic camps do not just increase confidence in English speaking, but also teach tolerance, intercultural communication and develop human qualities. One of the workshops of the day included discussion of the All-Russian contest dedicated to the celebration of 200 years of diplomatic relations of the USA and Russia. These relations started in 1807 by the common efforts of President T. Jefferson and Emperor Alexander I.
Publishing houses such as Cambridge University Press, Drofa, Astrel and Macmillan that supported the conference organized several workshops dedicated to modern ELT materials. The participants enjoyed the presentations of books made by authors and editors and benefited from a book sale offered by the publishers.
The third and the fourth day of the conference started with special interest sections. These included: English for Professional Purposes, English at Secondary Schools, Pre-Service and In-Service Teacher Training, Computer Technologies in Teaching English, Cultural Studies and Applied Linguistics.
The section of English for Specific Purposes covered the issues of teaching English to geographers and law students, teaching communication to the military, teaching translation for would-be engineers, adding value to ESP materials, general principles of teaching a foreign language in non-language educational institutions and so on. The participants agreed that all teachers working at any kind of non-language department share some common problems. These include lack of motivation of students, using effectively the little time given by the curriculum, correlation of general English, academic English and ESP, estimating the difficulty level of ELT materials and the competence of the students. Many presenters use profession oriented texts as the basis for forming professional competence of students; computer technologies and TV programs in English are also helpful in teaching professional communication. Motivation of ESP students is closely connected to the ways they can apply their knowledge of English in a real situation of life. To create this possibility, universities usually organize conferences, seminars or discussions in English, invite foreign specialists to lecture in their native language. Moscow ELT Association (MELTA) offered to publish articles of students in a book, where they can share their impressions and emotions in English and try themselves in such genres as essay, fiction, poetry and synopsis. The first issue of this book dedicated to the year of a child is already published.
The NATE meeting started from the introduction of Moscow ELT Association. MELTA coordinators Alyona Gromoushkina, Olga Boltneva and Irina Korotkina spoke about conferences, seminars and contests organized in Moscow for teachers and English learners and shared plans for the future. A MELTA website will be launched soon and now all information is available on a website of the Committee on Young Teachers Support: www.creative-teaching.narod.ru.
Then the Unified State Exam as a new challenge for English teachers was discussed. Most of the teachers agreed that if it’s impossible to avoid it, professional ELT associations can at least make it better by contributing improved content from a variety of item writers.
The final plenary session was packed with outstanding reports.
The participants were very impressed by a bright talk by Paul Webb “The right stuff to teach” who focused on selecting the right language for the lessons, appealed to teachers not to be too judgmental about the rules in English, and challenged the concept of the Queen’s English. A plenary report by Prof. Kashkin revealed the world of “folk linguistics”: the presenter analyzed the perception and prejudices of learners to different languages and contrasted them to real linguistic facts.
A closing ceremony ended up in prizes and surprises. At the end a balloon symbolizing the 14th conference was passed to Vladivostok – the next city to host the event. And the intellectual feast, as Prof. Verbitskaya called it, was over.
I do believe that teachers benefit from being together, discussing common interests and problems. Teachers work with potentials, every day they challenge the potential of their students and their own. The professional community is a bright collection of potentials, a treasury of experience and ideas, a collected wisdom of creative personalities. And each time teachers meet at such a forum as this conference they enrich their mind and soul. Each meeting of this kind produces an impulse, just as two stones produce a spark when they are struck against each other.
By Pyotr Stepichev,