English UK conference report 12.11.11 (Part 1)

Two of our great teachers, Jenny & Hannah, attended the English UK Teacher conference last month in London. Here they summarize some of the sessions they saw and what they have learnt from the experience. Part 2 here.

Maurice Claypole – ‘Beyond the Communicative Approach’

We were graced by the presence of Maurice Claypole on Saturday morning with his lecture, ‘Beyond the Communicative Approach’. A very informative and useful lecture where he demonstrated a variety of ideas based around his theory of teaching beyond the basic requirements in TEFL. Ultimately what we really discovered was his undying and unashamed love for Star Trek and for an hour and a half he led us on an insightful journey ‘where no teacher has been before’.

Here are the main points from the lecture:

  • Language is complicated and we as TEFL teachers often attempt to simplify complex problems with course books and teaching methodologies.  Claypole’s fractal approach to teaching is taken from the science of nature and his argument is that nature is constantly changing and so is language too. He encourages teachers to give students space for creative output rather than restricting them to simplistic forms of language.  A very interesting theory and for those interested, here is a link to his article ‘Bring chaos theory to English language teaching’ in The Guardian here.
  • The Fractal approach produces the notion of ‘Static’ versus ‘Dynamic’ teaching. Static meaning easy to teach and dynamic meaning useful to learn.  A classic example of this in the classroom is when you are eliciting a particular word from a class through a cloze task.

Ø     “When he … the explosion, he ran out of the house.” The word ‘heard’ would be a common answer, but there are many other possibilities such as ‘saw’, ‘felt’, ‘was told about’ etc. When teachers are faced with creative students, a static-minded teacher will tend to respond with, “That’s good, but it wasn’t the word I was thinking of”, whereas a more fractally-minded teacher should encourage other possibilities and not imply the word ‘heard’ was any better than other valid answers.

  • Language should not be  sanitised. Particularly in terms of grammar, where if a rule doesn’t work, simply throw it out as we should always test grammar rules against experience. Language outside of the classroom such as ‘slang or ‘jargon’ should be encouraged and not discarded.  Grammar simply has no meaning if it’s sanitised in the classroom and it is authenticity in language that the student will find useful.
  • Finally, we should encourage students to embrace the chaotic nature of language and allow them to discover new aspects of English through pattern recognition rather than static language acquisition. (Claypole, Bring chaos theory to English language teaching, The Guardian)


Jonathan Seath – 8 Ways to make a perfect teacher

During British Council inspections all teachers are observed against eight criteria T28-T35. But what do these requirements really mean? What are the inspectors looking for? This session highlighted a few points to remember when planning an observed class.

As teachers, we should all see ourselves as the:






Organiser and Facilitator

We should be aware of these titles and be aware of all the roles we have to play. The learner should be clear on what exactly they know, or can do, that they didn’t know before the lesson.

Here are a few things that are less than perfect in the classroom:

  • A lesson with non-specific aims.
  • Too much/too little content or similarly a target which is too easy or difficult.
  • The aims of the lesson do not match the student’s needs.
  • There is no apparent link to previous or future lessons.
  • A loss of focus during the lesson. * We should take students with us by signposting.
  • The techniques used during class do not promote learning.
  • Insufficient practice with not enough repetition and drilling.
  • Insufficient variety of techniques. For example pre-teaching vocabulary, we should never just spring the question “What does X mean?”
  • Material is not sourced.
  • Unimaginative use of the textbook.

Some of these points are obvious to most teachers, but it is a good checklist to refer to before any observation.

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One Response to English UK conference report 12.11.11 (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: English UK conference report (Part 2) | Teacher Training Blog

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