Jeremy Harmer (author of many teacher training books) opened the conference by looking at a number of key issues in English language teaching.
His first question was whether being up to date with technology was important. To highlight an example he said he would be giving his presentation without any slides. He asked if a competent teacher should be able to teach with almost no resources – as is often the case in developing countries. The audience was split. It’s an interesting consideration for home tuition as few teachers will have access to a full library of resources. Personally I think that although quite a bit of language teaching can take place successfully without the latest technology and be based more on the personal relationship between teacher and learner, taking advantage of for example web-based resources and knowing how to make digital audio and video recording gives the teacher far more to draw on. Home tuition students have individual needs and the ability to tailor programmes seems essential to good home teaching.
Jeremy went on to discuss correction. He said that the technique of reformulation was commonly used but that it was not clear if it actually works. He recommended you record some of your lessons in order to hear how you correct. He also asked if we think about testing enough. For me one of the key questions when testing is asking yourself what it is exactly that you are trying to measure. Does testing a student’s knowledge of irregular verb forms tell you much about their communicative competence?
He made quite a number of references to CLIL and said that a lot of CLIL training was going on at International House and Bell. The key thing about CLIL is that you decide on the content of what you want to teach and only then consider how to do it. An example might be coaching someone to give better presentations on their company’s products. You wouldn’t focus on teaching verb tenses but rather on perhaps describing the products and their advantages.
Jeremy raised the interesting subject of rapport. He pointed out that rapport is culturally determined. His example was that rapport is not always about ‘being nice’ but sometimes about the teacher really knowing their subject. For some students what is key to feeling comfortable is the knowledge that their teacher knows what they are doing. I imagine this will be particularly the case with high achievers.
He wrapped up his talk by looking at repetition in language learning. He remarked that the communicative approach (which is the main teaching style in UK language schools) seems to ignore the role of repetition and that perhaps this should be reassessed.
All food for thought.