We've just returned from a busy week in Philadelphia at the annual TESOL convention. This trip started out a bit rocky (no pun intended, Philly), as I realized a few nights before the trip that I was booked on the PM instead of AM flight! I owe a very special thank you to Adam from Air Canada's Facebook team for helping me get on the morning flight. Thanks to Adam, I arrived in time to help Ben set up the ESL-Library booth before the big day!
On Day 1 we left our booth in care of our neighbours for an hour, and Ben gave an impressive presentation about using ESL-Library to engage teen and adult learners. He shared information about our small, dedicated Red River Press team, and demoed how teachers can use the ready-made lesson plans and flashcards to supplement their curriculums. He also shared a few sneak previews about what's coming up in the summer and fall. My favourite part was when Ben talked about the making of our Chilean Miner lesson plans. This brought back some great memories, and made me feel very proud to be part of a team that brings materials to teachers in a timely manner. Over 5,000 teachers downloaded this lesson plan in the first ten hours. We published it a few minutes after the last miner was rescued, and made it free for all. Ben talked about how some teachers shared their 33 Things We're Thankful For lists (an exercise from the lesson), which we published on our blog.
Back at the booth Ben and I spoke with hundreds of teachers, administrators, and authors from all over the world. Many satisfied subscribers, including Erica from Harvey High School in Ohio and Cara from Columbia University (pictured left), came by to tell us how happy they are with the ESL-Library. One teacher came by to tell us how much fun her students had with the 'Chatterbox' warmup we posted on our blog. Another came by to beg us for more Mini-Debates! We received many requests for lower level versions of our Famous People, Places, and Things lessons. This is one of the reasons we go to this convention every year, as we focus on building our library based on teacher requests. We also demonstrated how to use the flashcard library, the podcasts, and the lesson plan calendar. Finally, we exchanged twitter handles and promised to stay in touch in a variety of ways.
'I think most of these things make lazy teachers, but this one (ESL-Library) is very helpful.' Daniel Loges, a subscriber who stopped by our booth at TESOL.
If you've ever worked in an exhibition hall, you know how hard it can be to get away to grab a coffee, or take in a presentation. This year I insisted on slipping away to a few sessions. I enjoyed a great presentation called Vocabulary Revisited, by American professor Frances Boyd. Frances started out by having us write down a list of body parts in our second language. She gave us two minutes, and I was ashamed to only get nine words down before the time was up (most were spelled incorrectly). It was great to be in the learner's shoes again. Frances spoke about chunking, sorting, and helping students become proud 'collectors' of vocabulary. She stressed the importance of frequent short practice, repeated exposure, and learning words inside out. She also talked about teaching students to become 'fluent guessers' by showing them how to dissect vocabulary. The most interesting part for me was about helping learners change their attitude so that they can learn to take control of their own learning journeys. Over the weekend I took this approach while teaching my daughter how to ride a two-wheeler. We set up 8 fifteen-minute focused lessons, and by the end of the 4th she was riding on her own. (We had tried many times before, but her attitude and focus this time made all the difference.) Can you help your students learn that vocabulary building is a lifelong project? One idea Frances shared is to invite them to create (and revisit often) lists of words that they know, half-know, or don't know at all!
I also enjoyed a well-attended session by Brazilian teacher (and PLN member) Carla Arena, titled 'Making Waves Through Online Circles of Learning.' Carla invited participants to expand their learning toolkits. She spoke about several professional development tools that are in my own toolkit, such as twitter, Facebook, and Scoop.it. She also introduced some tools that I'd love to learn more about such as the Learning2gether Wiki and the Electric Village Online. Carla's enthusiasm for online collaboration and learning has helped convert many technophobes around the world. She reminded teachers that they can't wait for their institutions to pay for professional development. The best story from this session was about a tech savvy teacher from Carla's school who used to lend her flash drive (full of self-created presentations and materials) to any teacher who asked. Over time the school built a wiki that all 2000 teachers could add to and share. One of my favourite lines from Carla's presentation was, 'You don't need to join twitter. Just search. You'll see people are talking about serious stuff!'
In addition to meeting teachers, attending sessions, building a toolbox, and giving teachers a free trial of our digital library of materials, I got a new T-shirt! This was not any ordinary shirt, 'nor was it something I won in a TESOL raffle. This was an #ELTChat shirt that came all the way from Glasgow, Scotland, special delivery from Alex Williams of Oxford University Press. Like the Facebook miracle I shared at the beginning of this post, this gift arrived thanks to twitter. Just prior to the TESOL conference, I was virtually attending #IATEFL via Glasgow Online (Check out all of the recorded interviews and sessions!). During one of the symposiums I noticed some of my favourite tweechers were wearing #ELTChat shirts. I wished I had one to wear at the TESOL conference. (Twitter is not popular with TESOL attendees, and I figured a T-shirt might speak louder than words.) Within minutes of my twitter request, a special delivery had been arranged. OUP's social media guru was on his way to Philly from Glasgow and offered to bring a shirt to me.
Though I never got the chance to run 'Rocky-style' up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, I did come back to Canada feeling ready to 'go the distance' in my work as an ELT materials writer, online teacher/admin, and social media director/curator. Attending a teaching conference fills me up every time. If you were unable to attend any of the local or international teaching conferences this season, it's not too late! Check out the Virtual Round Table web conference from April 20-22. It's free and you can learn, share, and connect with hundreds of other teachers (in your pajamas). Finally, I'd like to get it in writing that we'll be wearing ESL-Library T-shirts, jeans, and comfortable running shoes to the next TESOL conference. (Ben promised.) Next year's TESOL conference is in Texas! Are you in?