MeetELT: Where real-life meets the classroom

It’s Thursday night in a dimly-lit, trendy-looking bar in the centre of Sydney and there’s a steadily building crowd of people lining up to sign in at the door. If your name’s not down, you’re definitely not coming in. If you’re waiting for the band to arrive, you’re mistaken. This is a professional development event for ELICOS teachers, and this ‘sold out’ gig has brought over 100 teaching staff who have done a day’s work, but are still hungry for more!

MeetELT is a professional development event for teachers across Sydney, masterminded by Navitas English and Pearson. The aim of the long-running event is to bring engaging, accessible PD to teachers who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to more ‘traditional’ industry events like conferences and coursebook promotions. The theme of this event, ‘Where real-life meets the classroom; to infinitive and beyond’ has successfully drawn a crowd of teachers who are either eager to connect learning to their students’ lives or just have a weakness for cheesy word play. Katrina Hennigan (Project Manager, ELICOS) and Lucy Blakemore (Navitas Learning and Teaching Services) explain a bit more about MeetELT and what’s involved:

Why not suggest a topic or volunteer to get involved in the next event. You can get a taste of MeetELT from the ‘live’ blog below:

5pm – The teachers check in

It’s not often you get Professional Development in such lush digs. Already it’s buzzing (you’ll see what we mean in the videos).  Teachers are darting around the room to say g’day and talk shop. Drinks in hand. Cameras at the ready. Here we go.

5.10pm – The MC kicks us off

Lucy Blakemore, guest MC from Navitas, kicks things off with a quick intro. Today’s major theme is this:

“Where real-life meets the classroom: To infinitive and beyond!”

Puns like that are to be expected when English language teachers meet.

5.15pm – Bringing real-life experience into students’ learning

Katrina Hennigan (Navitas) shares something she has learnt from thousands of conversations with English language students: ‘real life’ in Australia can be so different from their expectations of life in Australia. And it doesn’t always look like those shiny marketing brochures.

Katrina encourages teachers to teach beyond the classroom context: Bring the real world into the classroom, and help students take learning out into the real world.

Tonight’s session will continue with practical, adaptable examples of how to ground students’ learning in English language classrooms with skills they’ll need and experiences they’ll have in the real world. Katrina offers up a handful of practical ideas, including a real-world ‘Bingo’ task to get students tuning into new vocabulary, actively listening on the bus and in the coffee queue for examples of language in practice. These kinds of strategies, simple though they may seem, have a direct impact on students’ independence and confidence outside the classroom environment.

5.30pm – Bringing in real life: Vocabulary and Circumlocution

Sophie O’Keefe (English Australia) talks about how to implement a strategy that has been proven to improve student achievement: making the learning process visible and explicit to the students.

Sophie said it can be as simple as asking students two questions about the activity they are doing (in her case, practising circumlocution to communicate when you don’t know the exact word for something). She asks them:

  1. Why do we do this activity?
  2. What English skill are we practicing in this activity?

Once her students understood the point of practising circumlocution and how it improves their communication skills, they were on board. With a little prompting to form new habits, her students were soon challenging each other to put the skill into practice on a regular basis.

5.40pm – Bringing in real life: Reading and SQ3R

Clare McGrath (Navitas) had a major moment of inspiration when she started applying the strategies she was teaching to her own reading.

Clare suggests trying to focus on the learning process yourself when you read or do other activities, just as you would expect your students to. Clare has used the SQ3R strategy for recollection and effective study when reading.

SQ3R stands for Skim, Question, Read, Recite, Recall and is a technique developed originally for college students to enhance their reading skills. You can find out more about it here.

5:50pm – Bringing in real life: Visualisation task

Denise Metzger (EF) uses the activity of guided visualisation to help students make explicit connections between their learning and its real life applications.

Visualisation can be as simple as asking students to close their eyes and describe a real-life object. The key is to orchestrate a mental pause and get the students to reflect.

Denise suggests this Inception-style learning-within-learning: Get them to visualise the learning process! “How did you feel when you came into the classroom? How did you feel when we covered *this* and then when we covered *this*? Which activity did you want to talk about more in your break time? When will you be able to use that?”

Denise makes it seem very easy to design a good question by simply using visualisation as the focus. She uses it on-the-fly as a finisher in her classrooms, instead of how she used to finish a lesson (“someone-else-has-this-room-booked-we-have-to-go-Don’t forget your work!”).

6pm – Find Someone Who…adapted for real life

Katrina dishes up an activity as food is (literally) dished up.

Like the presenters before her, she asks the teachers to try this activity themselves.

The activity for tonight is an adaptation of an old favourite from the language classroom: ‘Find someone who…’. Instead of shoe-horning some unrealistic questions tenuously related to language point, however, this time we’re making it authentic. What do you really want to find out, and who will you ask?

Teachers are already writing down their questions, revelling in the freedom of designing their own task and personalising it for real life. The traditional ‘Find Someone Who’ will never be the same again.

6.20pm – Back to business 

We really should've taken a "Before" picture...
We really should’ve taken a “Before” picture…

There’s been a short break to devour the snacks and converse. Delicious and cheesy and breadcrumby smells have filled the room and, wow, the cheese and fruit platters look good!

There’s so much talking going on, it’s hard to bring the room back for the next activity. Clearly the ideas shared are already setting off some creative ideas and people are excited about the possibilities.

6.25pm – Ok, actually back now, and into a Pecha Kucha session!

The Pecha Kucha session kicks off… Lucy whips up the audience in the video below.

You can watch the five Pecha Kucha presentations here, but to give you a taster, here’s what they covered:

  • Dan Pratt on how real life situations force you to learn fast
  • James Heath & Matt Tirpack on their “Selfie Safari”
  • Virginia Mawer on her student-led “Pinkytas” fundraiser
  • Zoe Erbacher on turning her English language students into real-life tour guides
  • Jock Boyd on how to “Shut up and write”

A final, 10-slide Pecha Kucha was given by Jonathan Hvaal to reflect on what exactly Pecha Kucha is and why it was used tonight. Here it is:

Navitas staff can head to Yammer for conversations and updates from colleagues by searching for #MeetELT. You can also find out more about MeetELT here.