Six talks worth watching

Professional development is often associated with attending conferences. In my experience, you can usually tell within the first five minutes if the talk or workshop is going to be any good. The positive effect of moving such events online is that you don’t need to worry about being spotted while trying to sneak away from a lecture that you find excruciatingly boring. To be fair to the speakers, it’s impossible to please everyone when you are talking to a group of teachers with varied experience, qualifications, interests, etc.

Fortunately, there are recordings of some useful education-related talks available on YouTube. I have already mentioned a couple of them on this blog, so I thought it would be a good idea to select a few more videos, write a short summary of each of them, and point out some moments I found humorous. If you’d like to recommend any other talks, let me know in the comments section.

Scott Thornbury: What’s the latest method?
You know that you can always rely on Scott Thornbury to deliver an engaging talk because he is an experienced presenter and skilled public speaker. This talk is an entertaining overview of teaching methods used throughout the years. There are plenty of references to literature and hilarious examples from obscure books for students. I think this talk serves as a pretty good argument against strictly adhering to a magic method that promises amazing results. The talk ends when some guy tentatively walks onto the stage to tell Thornbury that he has run out of time, which shows that issues with timing don’t affect only Delta Module Two candidates.

Stephen Krashen: The power of reading
Everyone remembers Stephen Krashen for his hypotheses related to second language acquisition. He later became involved in educational policy activism, and one of his priorities is improving access to books. In this talk that focuses on the benefits of reading, Krashen refers to relevant research and provides pretty convincing arguments for free voluntary reading. He states that reading influences more aspects of life than just academic results. The talk also includes a Bill Cosby reference, which is something that most likely wouldn’t happen these days.

Russ Mayne: A guide to pseudoscience in ELT
I wonder what strange contraption was used to record this talk because the video definitely doesn’t look like something made in 2014. Anyway, I highly recommend that you ignore the poor audio and image quality and watch this gem of a talk. It has everything you’d want from a guide on myths on ELT. Russ Mayne mentions horoscopes, refers to Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit, and provides a helpful slide with names of major organisations and authors who are complicit in spreading nonsense. Brilliant stuff!

If Karl Pilkington’s superhero idea ever gets made into a movie, I will personally contact film studios with a pitch for a spin-off. Imagine that: He’s just a normal guy who doesn’t need a special costume. When he hears someone somewhere in the world promoting the use of learning styles and multiple intelligences in the classroom, he flies in and…

Philip Kerr: The return of translation
This is a very useful webinar for teachers who work in places that ban using L1 in the classroom. Philip Kerr makes it clear that we should be more open-minded when it comes to using translation because our students can actually benefit from it. I like the fact that he shows practical examples of translation activities that you can use in your teaching practice. If you watch the whole video, you will be rewarded with a funny swear word and the speaker’s heartfelt Christmas wishes. Nice one!

Rod Ellis: Using tasks in language teaching
This webinar will provide you with basic tenets related to using tasks in the classroom, including focus on form. It was nice to see Rod Ellis confirm that TBLT can be used in the online environment because the theory of language learning isn’t affected by the fact that you’re talking to your students through Zoom. There is nothing revolutionary in the webinar, but it’s good to hear everything straight from Rod Ellis’ mouth. By the way, that body part features quite prominently in the top right corner of the video because Cambridge University Press forgot to include the upper half of the speaker’s face in the recording.

Luke Meddings: 3-2-1: A classroom for everyone
One of the main proponents of Dogme gave this thought-provoking talk on the approach twelve years after its creation. Luke Meddings makes some interesting comments about this alternative to coursebook-driven teaching. He briefly mentions learning styles and multiple intelligences. I guess Russ Mayne wasn’t in the audience that day because I didn’t hear any audible groans in the recording. To his credit, Meddings says that we should try to build a community and include a variety of task types rather than pay attention to those theories.

Scott Thornbury: Beyond the Sentence

If you are an English teacher involved in professional development, you have most likely come across Scott Thornbury’s work. I remember that when I was chatting with other teachers right after finishing my Delta Module One exam, one of them found something relevant on his phone and exclaimed, ‘Bloody Thornbury again!’ He has written so many books, articles and blog posts that when you search for ELT-related information on Google, Thornbury’s name will probably appear

What I really like about Scott Thornbury is that he isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. His ideas inspired me to start experimenting with the Dogme approach in my classes, which seems to work surprisingly well even when teaching online. I also recommend that you read his article Window-dressing vs cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture. It’s common to encounter texts dealing with those topics now, but Thornbury wrote it in 1999, and I think that he deserves a lot of respect for that. All in all, he comes across as a genuinely good guy. He has written plenty of good books, but if I had to choose one that I enjoyed the most, it would be Beyond the Sentence.

Scott Thornbury: Beyond the Sentence

When I was at university, I took one semester of CDA (Critical Discourse Analysis). Since I studied journalism, we focused mainly on the media and analysed how one event is reported differently depending on the newspaper’s political leaning. Even though I found it quite interesting, I still didn’t fully understand what discourse was. It started to make sense to me only after becoming an English teacher. When I decided to study for Delta Module One, I knew that it was necessary to explore the subject of discourse much more, and Beyond the Sentence was recommended to me as a must-read.

As its name implies, this book invites you to go further than individual lexical and grammatical items. We use language to achieve something, and focusing only on single sentences isn’t enough. This has clear implications for language teaching because we have to think of the context in which communication takes place. Asking students to fill out exercises full of random sentences without any connection to each other probably isn’t the most motivating way to teach English.

I think that discourse is one of those ideas that aren’t that easy to grasp because it involves so many concepts. Fortunately, Thornbury is very thorough when it comes to terminology and providing practical examples. Words like cohesion, coherence, theme and rheme don’t sound very exciting, but Beyond the Sentence makes their importance perfectly clear. I guess that all Delta candidates are familiar with the phrase ‘activating schemata’, which is something we use in our teaching practice all the time.

What I really like about this book is that there are some genuinely funny moments in it. Scott Thornbury is a frequent speaker at conferences, and as you can see in this talk about methods, he is a very witty man. He can’t resist including humorous comments in his books, and that’s always nice to see. In Beyond the Sentence, he points out how contrived and unnatural some coursebook texts are, so there is no need to take them too seriously. Even if you are expected to use a coursebook in your classes, you don’t have to use the texts exactly as they were intended. When I see a stilted dialogue in a coursebook, I sometimes ask my students to create a backstory for the characters or come up with an alternative ending, which is always good fun.

Thornbury seems to enjoy referring to news articles, particularly from tabloids, which is another way of making English learning a more interesting experience for your students. Authentic texts, if utilised correctly, can definitely serve as a helpful resource. Even when you are supposed to teach something like the passive voice, showing real-life examples of how and why it is used is better than just doing gap-fill exercises. Beyond the Sentence also deals with ideology in texts, which is another area worth exploring.

I really like the fact that the book includes useful text-adaptation strategies and other ideas that can be used in your teaching practice. Beyond the Sentence has provided me with plenty of inspiration for my own lessons, particularly when it comes to teaching writing. I was a little worried that a book about discourse might be a bit too academic for me, but Thornbury managed to write it in a way that helps you understand the subject and its practical implications. Beyond the Sentence is a great book for developing teachers and you certainly won’t regret reading it.