Behind the scenes ELT

In this case, ELT stands for ELT’s Lesser-known Talents. OK, a bit of a stretch for an abbreviation, but in the interests of continuing my series of ‘best of IATEFL conference 2013’ posts, I had to give my favourite session of today a more industry-relevant name than its real, official title: Open Mic Night.

I went to some terrific talks today, including Jessica Mackay’s presentation of her PhD research into helping learners find and achieve their ideal L2 selves, Katy Davies’ suggestions of how to help learners move beyond the intermediate plateau and John Field’s excellent comparison of how we test listening skills vs. how we (should) teach them.

But all things considered, I think the part of the day that made the greatest impression on me was the open mic night that took place at the end of the day. From Bethany Cagnol’s amazing a cappella operatic version of Victor Hugo’s “Si mes verses avaient des ailles”, to Sue Lyon-Jones’ breathtaking rendition of Summertime, to Chaz Pugliese’s sultry blues, to a reprise of Adrian Underhill’s Reflective Practice Blues from last year’s conference, to Rakesh Bhanot’s hilarious and sometimes quite touching poetry… It was an altogether terrific evening. And there were so many other incredible performances I haven’t listed here (as I’m typing this on a tiny iPod screen and can only manage so much!).

But all of this highlighted just how diverse the talents of my ELT colleagues, acquaintances and idols (!) are. There is a vast deal of skill, talent, humour, wit–and admirable modesty about it all–in our field.

And it makes you think, as Adrian Underhill, the marvellous compere for the evening, reminded us at one point, what if we saw these other sides of our students? Do we see this?

In other words, as much as we think and say we do, do we really see our students as such multi-faceted, potentially multi-talented, people? Or are we in the habit of seeing them through a ‘teacher-student’ filter? Not that we don’t see or acknowledge their linguistic abilities and talents, but what else might be there that we don’t see simply because we never have the chance?

That said, the reverse of this should also be considered… Would our students want to expose other aspects of their personalities and skills to their English teachers and classmates?

It’s tempting, in the thrill of curiosity and discovery, to forget the desires of the other party. I know people with incredible talents that aren’t widely known, but that’s partly because they don’t want them to be.

Perhaps as teachers, we should just remember from time to time that there is a lot more to our students than what we see of them in class, and that this should be respected, if not openly discussed.

I don’t necessarily have any answers to the questions raised by this contemplation, but I found the evening’s entertainment not only very enjoyable but also very thought-provoking.

Roll on tomorrow–the penultimate day of IATEFL 2013!

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

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