Sunday, March 24, 2013

TESOL Toulouse

I got up at four o'clock Saturday morning so I could drive to Nérac to pick up my friend Glenda and then to Agen where we took the 7:20 am train to Toulouse. There we discovered the brand new Metro, at least for me, and made our way to a former tobacco factory.  It sounds industrial but looked stylish and kind of Art Nouveau, obviously enjoying a new lease on life.  There were signs up for karate classes and arrows pointing to "anniversaire Siad".  We spotted the handwritten signs that said "TESOL" and followed them.

On the second floor, in a large, airy room we found about twenty other people dedicated to teaching the French to speak English. We got there at 9:30, a little late for the coffee and pastries, but in time for the first presentation.  I had time to say hello to Kate Kleinsworth, whom I had met at the national TESOL conference in Paris in November.  She had given an interesting presentation of what she called "Dialogue Journals". I found her idea very similar to what I have always called fluency writing, but Kate takes it a step further by writing short notes to her students, not correcting their grammar but responding to their content, so that it becomes a dialogue between the teacher and the student.

The first talk was "Differentiated Instruction" by Richard Pearson.  It was interesting and so well-structured that I found I could take notes that actually made sense when I looked at them afterwards.  Richard explained how to introduce choice into all three steps of conceiving a lesson.  Students can be allowed to choose a topic, choose how to process that topic and what form their final production will take.  Of course it was more complex than that, but he did make it seem doable and we all know how important it is to introduce choice into our courses so that students feel empowered.

Then Dan Kelly spoke about using humor to teach English and had an interesting approach and a lively delivery.  His lesson was funny, but I've found in the past that a pun loses all its humor when you spend twenty minutes explaining why it's funny.  Still, Dan had an interesting video to use to make students aware that one word can have several different meanings and we all signed up when he offered to send his lesson to us.

After a short break Ros Wright spoke about writing materials for ESP, English for Specific Purposes. Two of my private students are professionals who need English for their work, so I was all ears.  The abstract promised that she would provide "a simple but adaptable framework to help you design your own ESP materials" and she kept her word.  It was an excellent presentation, well worth getting up early, driving in the dark and catching a train to hear.

My only regret was that I didn't get more of an opportunity to chat with all the fascinating people in the room.  They were of all ages, Brits, Americans and at least one New Zealander. My novelist instincts were on red alert, but I'm shy about approaching people I don't know, afraid I'll be seen as intruding. My friend Glenda is better at socializing and she had an animated conversation with a woman who works with special needs children.  

It was a very pleasant, professionally stimulating morning and I'll be sure to go the next time I get a message from Kate about TESOL Toulouse.  Glenda thanked me more than once for suggesting that she accompany me.

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