TESOL France held their annual Spring Day in Strasbourg on June 1st. I arrived Friday night in a downpour which continued most of the next day. In spite of the weather, our hosts, Lillian Stirling and Jane Ryder, president of TESOL Strasbourg, were warm, smiling, helpful and gracious throughout. It was a great opportunity to meet people who are passionate about teaching English and to exchange ideas.
The opening plenary was “Controversies in ELT” with Chia Suan Chong. She is a lively, beautiful, articulate, very pregnant woman. I thought she did an excellent job of bringing people to rethink some of their assumptions. I’m tempted to say there was something very taoistic in her approach which might be summarized as “different does not always imply wrong.”
As soon as I saw the title of Fiona Mauchine’s workshop, “Me” is for “memorable” and “meaningful”, I knew I had to go there, since personalization is such an important part of TPRS. I met a gracious, experienced teacher and liked her ideas. Just one that stuck out was to print out pictures of unusual houses and allow students to choose one and say that it is theirs, then to describe it. As Fiona pointed out, asking students to describe their own homes may be embarrassing for some students.
After lunch I watched Peter Dyer’s lively workshop. Peter is originally from Australia, but has spent time in many parts of the world and he began his career as an actor. In his workshop he showed us how to use improvisation techniques to get students to relax and start up spontaneous conversations where the focus is on content. It was easy to find Peter’s workshop, it was where all the laughter was coming from. I can think of a million ways in which his expertise would help me to make actors a more vital part of my TPRS lessons. I’m currently plotting to kidnap the man and pick his brains.
Then it was my turn and I had a pretty full house. Lillian introduced me to Anna Deshayes, a lovely woman from Poland, just before the workshop and I started by talking Anna through a brief lesson in Polish, where our students learned to say that they had a Twingo and they wanted a BMW. Did they want a Megan? Nie. Did they want a Jaguar? Tak! Then I briefly explained what TPRS is and how it has evolved on the Internet through exchanges between thousands of teachers about what works and doesn’t work in their classrooms. I had put up posters with some of the expressions TPRS teachers use and invited them to ask me about the ones they were curious about. So I was able to explain barometers, Teach for June, Teach to the eyes, PQA, the three steps, etc. They seemed open and curious and afterwards took quite a few of the leaflets concerning the workshop in August. I got some very positive feedback from those who were listening and from the organizers. I definitely felt that my trip to Strasbourg was worthwhile.
After a short break we listened to Mike Hogan explain how to deliver the best, which concerned being professional in meeting our clients/customers/students’ expectations. So that they give us positive feedback and tell others that our lessons are “high quality”. And I have to say that Mike’s presentation was informative and very professional. My one regret was that it wasn’t possible to see all of the speakers. I would have liked to hear Csilla Jaray-Benn talk about “collaborative creative learning”, since, once again, it sounds like something that could harmonize with TPRS, but she was presenting at the same time as Peter. I hope to get to hear her another time.
Afterwards the speakers and the organizers ate at a nice restaurant with a glassed-in terrace on the river. The water was literally rushing by a foot from where we were sitting at almost eye-level. I had potato pancakes and salmon, not being brave enough to try the choucroute and fish that my neighbor ordered.
The next day we had a wonderful surprise. The sun was out! And we discovered that Alsace is a lovely land with doll like houses and green fields and woods. I hope to return again.