ACEIA Online 2021 – What’s Next? Building the Future – Conference notes

Over the weekend, I attended and presented at the annual ACEIA conference. As usual, it was jam packed with sessions and I had a great time. We were using the conference software Whova, which worked really well (for the most part) and I was really happy to see so many people there (I think there were around 500). I’ve tried to write my notes in this blog post as ‘neatly’ and clearly as possible. They are very much a ‘stream of consciousness’, but I do hope that they are understandable. If you have any questions, feel free to let me know!

Lisa Dold – Being the DoS – Surviving and Thriving

Lisa spoke to us about the challenges she has faced during and post-lockdown as an academic manager. Some of these include:

  • Making and selling decisions to stakeholders
  • Time management for survival: lockdown and coming out of lockdown has amplified time management issues.

Some things Lisa has learnt:

  • Importance of planning the week ahead, including planning in relaxation time, main objectives, events, etc.
  • Plan the day: Lisa uses a 3-things approach. In essence, choose three things that you want to complete in the day. She made reference to a talk in which ‘flow state’ was spoken about, and she highlighted that we really can only have about 4 hours of dedicated focus every day. This is why we should choose our 3 things carefully.
  • Reflect on the week: Make sure you see how well you’re doing and how well you’re completing your objectives
  • Time audit: Lisa spoke about how she completed a time audit and then realised how much of her was devoted to certain aspects that should have been given lower priority than other things (e.g. planning more time on planning when there should be more time spent on teachers meetings). This year she tried to change how she managed her time by changing her lessons so that she doubled up on lessons/levels (less planning)
  • Manage the to-do list – not complete it! Lisa stated that the to-do list never ends, so as academic managers we should aim to be good at managing the to-do list and enjoying the journey, not looking forward to the destination!
  • We can’t control everything: And sometimes GOOD is ‘good enough’. She emphasised that if you are a perfectionist life is going to be difficult – unnecessarily so!
  • Know your why: Lisa spoke about the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek. In essence, for a company to survive they need to have a clear understanding of their beliefs, i.e. that is their why. She also spoke about how she was asked on a course to define her ‘why’ as a director/academic manager. She mentioned that it was easy as a teacher, but she realised that she had ‘fallen’ into academic management. She created a list of most of the things that she does as an academic manager (see picture) and then decided which of these give her ‘joy’. She encouraged us to do the same, and then ask ourselves whether these are our strengths! We should then realise that as academic managers that we need to delegate efficiently, especially to others that are good at the areas that they are good at! We can also the identify areas that we should look to develop in – areas that we are not that good at and that we can/need to get better at.

My session – Increasing examiner reliability through exam moderation workshops

So this was the third time that I had presented this workshop, and it was the third time that it was different in both content, organisation and delivery. I have been reading Talk like TED (will aim to write a review once I have time!) and it really got me thinking about my presentation skills. So for this workshop, I started off the with a personal story of failure to really emphasise the point regarding why teachers need support with understanding exams and the criteria they need to use. I really do feel like this ‘caught’ the attention of the group. From here, we moved through the session and I felt really comfortable and confident. I did try to use breakout rooms, although some issues occurred and this was not as successful as I had hoped. I also ran out of time and didn’t get to really involve teachers in the reflection activities that I had planned. All things I look forward to changing for the upcoming TESOL France conference, where I will be doing the same workshop but, again, a little differently!

My action points:

  • Keep the story, it worked well.
  • Ensure breakout rooms are effective by pre-creating google drive links for documents as you can’t share through the chat in Whova.
  • Reduce the time spent on the opening sequence so that time is available at the end of the reflection.

Colin Robinson – Observations from observations

  • Colin spoke about what we look for in observations: technical and personal skills. Some ideas that Colin came up with:
  • He encouraged us to look at both sides as well as ensuring teachers understand what is expected of them.
  • Colin spoke about some things he tells teachers to use to fight against some of the problems with classroom management . An example of this is using ‘I want’ statements when dealing with problems instead of negative statements (e.g I don’t want you to… Don’t…).
  • When giving feedback it is important to provide critique with practical ideas; that is, make feedback actionable. I feel that this is vital but also a difficult aspect of being a trainer – it takes practice!
  • Colin took us through a great training activity by which he described a picture using only verbal instructions. The point was that only giving verbal instructions in a way that doesn’t involve learners really is not effective. He said that this could be used with teachers at the start of the year to highlight what is meant by ‘effective instructions’. He used this image:
  • Colin then spoke about elements that he would expect in terms of ‘structure’ and planning.
    • Clear goals
    • Intrapersonal and interpersonal activities
    • 4 skills, although something may be prioritised
    • Pronunciation
    • Error correcrion
    • Emergent language
    • Personalisation
    • Student output
    • Group/Pair work
  • Colin spoke about the the basic layout of lesson at St. James, and how teachers are talked through this layout from day 1. I found this idea of having a general lesson layout for all teachers really interesting. I have never been one to be too prescriptive, but I can see how this layout would have a positive backwash on teaching.
  • He also encouraged us to push teachers to think outside the class, and think about more than just what they are focusing on now. In essence, one lesson is not simply one lesson – it is part of a whole!

Plenary – Dr. Jane Arnold – Language Learning: Affective and Effective

Dr. Jane Arnold’s plenary looked at the affective side of learning and emphasised the point that if we don’t tkae this into consideration then our learning is likely to NOT BE effective. Dr. Arndol took us through much of the ‘basics’ of affective theory (e.g. motivation, self-worth, self-esteem, etc.) and looked at some practical ideas for the classroom. Some ideas she mentioned include:

  • Starting the year off with getting to know you activities that go much deeper than ‘who are you’.
  • Activties that allow for the development of group dyanmics throughout the year – build the group identity, in a sense.
  • Ensure to connect the course to future leraning. That is, rahter than finishing the course with a ‘that’s it’ lesson, ask learners to refelct on the year and then link their learning to their future selves.

I also really liked how she said that as teachers we start off as lecturers, then move to become teachers, then move to facilitators. She called this a life cycle and I believe she referenced Underhill or someone else (I’m sorry I didn’t catch it all!). As a trainer, then, I feel my role is to help teachers move through these stages effectively. How to do that, though, can be difficult to determine!

Roisin O’Farrell – Quizzes, puzzles, and other challenges’

Roisin’s talk was extremely practical and full of fun ideas that can be used in both the in-person and online classroom. She mentioned easter Eggs – hidden messages in films – and how teachers can bring this concept into their classes, and learners can start to record these (e.g. there might be a pink star around the room one day, then next a picture of a minion, etc.).

She carried out some research regarding games and competition with her learners. One of her questions was how games made them feel:

There is some research that shows that collaboration and competition together lead to better results, as opposed to one or the other. Roisin used the term ‘pulling together’, and emphasised that bringing in the we all need to be happy attitude, rather than one always being the winner while the rest ‘suffer’. She also gave the idea of providing individual personal challenges for learners for each class.

Some other games and idea she came up with include:

  • Enter the Zone:
    • Wordsearch: Get learners to look at a word search and have learners find the words and then identify the theme of the lesson. Roisin uses a set of codes to make things more difficult; that is, learners need to write the word down as well as the location of the words within the word serach suing a set of coordinates.
    • Guess the jumbled word-art words: Have learners looks at jumbled up words and have them guess the theme (see below).
  • Hands up for team points: Learners put up their hands and need to come up with a word based on a theme. Learners get a point for their team for a correct answer.
  • Solve the puzzle: A good transition idea is to provide a little puzzle that learners need to solve. For example, word puzzles like this one below!
A walk in the park 🙂
  • Learner-defined challenges: Another interesting thing Roisin did was ask her learners what would be a challenge. They came up with some really interesting ideas (e.g. two people trying not to blink). These challenges were then integrated into the class. I thought this was a great idea for involving learners!
  • Brain breaks are another thing that can be used in class. Roisin spoke about an example of providing a list of 12 numbers and learners need to guess what they could represent (months of the year). They then need to guess which months are going to appear first (negotiating in groups). She could then make them appear (using software or writing on the board).
  • Phonemic script: She also encouraged teachers to use words in phonemic script as small puzzles! This way you also create interest in the phonemic chart. I really like this one 🙂
  • Physical breaks: Learners also need a physical break sometimes as well – get them moving, in essence.
    • Musical elimination: Learners stand up and and listen to a tune. When there is a break they need to say a word from a category (e.g. food). If learners repeat a word, miss a ‘gap’, are too slow, etc. they sit down. She used this tune.
    • Compass points: Learners need to move their arms to certain points (North-West for example).
    • Strike a pose: Learners see two poses or dance moves and then these are associated with specific answers. When learners see a question, the need to choose the correct answer by striking the pose.
  • Getting to grips with grammar:
    • What’s the mistake! Learners look at a sentence and work out what the mistake is together.
    • Guess the sentence from the letters that you can see
  • Getting it on paper: Another interesting activity she presented was one in which words appear on the screen and then disappear. She emntioned that this could be done with simple sentences you want learners to write down to make it a little more amusing. Also, by showing the words in a different order to the ‘correct version’, we can encourage learners to think about how the sentence is formed. So, for example, How many people are there? might be shown as many people there are how.

Simon Pearlman – Inclusivity in ELT: A
Practical Approach

Simon’s talk was focused on raising awareness of both what inclusivity means (and what it doesn’t) as well as how we can ‘be’ it – rather than ‘doing’ it every now and then.

  • We should be wary of virtual signalling, identity politics, etc. People don’t need thanks or congratulations for being inclusive – it should be a normal part of our teaching.
  • Simon encouraged us to think of the fight forward as a move forward to an ‘equitable’ world.
  • How can we be more inclusive:
    • Ask questions about what people need
    • Normalise inclusivity
    • Make it part of our day-to-day lessons, etc.
  • Can we plan for inclusivity? Simon encouraged teachers to think about how this could be included, and making this systematic. Simon mentioned that we can include an ‘inclusivity’ box in the planning document for lessons. I think this is a really easy way of getting it to teachers – it also means that there is ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’.
  • Simon spoke about allowing for learners to have a variety of interaction patterns, including time to work alone (perhaps allowing those that are more introverted the time they need/want).
  • Beware of the tyranny of the majority. Ensure that the minority get a say as well. Rather than ‘voting’, get learners to take turns at choosing things, for example.
  • Differentiation needs to be done in a way that it doesn’t label. For example, rather than having different worksheets for different learners, provide a worksheet that starts simple and gets more complex – with learners working through til they feel they have reached their max.
  • Increase the mix: ensure that we represent a global world through the materials we use (e.g. looking at female astronauts). An idea could be to use ‘character builds’; that is, show an image of someone ‘marginalised’ and get learners to speak about them as people (e.g. what did they do yesterday?).
  • Simon spoke about Raise Up, a course book series that is focused on inclusivity. I hadn’t heard of this series before, but am very much looking forward to taking a look. If anyone has used this, please let me know your thoughts.
  • Simon stressed the need to ask the learners what they need – they are the experts! He referred to a learner in his school with Aspergers. They spoke with the learner and found out what they needed, and then they were able to create a ‘plan’ for this learner.
  • He also spoke about some things we can do outside the classroom:

Harry Waters – Becoming a lean, green teaching machine

For those of you that don’t know Harry, he is my favourite ‘green ambassador’ and is doing amazing things within the ELT world. His workshop looked at ways in which we can raise climate awareness in our classes. For example, here are his five ways of creating a greener mindset:

  • Get a plant in the classroom.
  • Take the class outside (or if this is impossible, get them to bring the outside into the class!)
  • Do a school litter pick challenge (more for younger learners) and integrate this with more ‘subjects’ (e.g. create a graph that shows how much litter has been picked up)
  • Highlight your students’ sustainable behaviour. Do more than normalise this ‘good’ behaviour – praise it!
  • Introduce your students to positive climate influences. Some examples include: Kids Against Plastic, State of Nature, Swop it Up.

Harry then mentioned some common objections to being ‘climate-focused’ in class. He then gave a solid list of solutions.

Common objectionSolution
I don’t have time. Make it a routine. For example, a five-minute ‘planet focus’ or presenting important numbers of the environment (e.g. trees planted this year by Ecosia) and use these as a conversation starter. Alternatively, look at Free Rice, an app by the UN – great for learning vocabulary!
I’m not an expert. Quote: While we teach, we learn (Seneca). Harry stressed that teachers don’t know everything so we can start to learn through teaching it (and planning for that) or better yet giving power to our learners and letting them lead the teaching. You can find loads of materials from Renewable English.
Who am I to tell my students how to live?Show your students and let them choose! Be sure that you’re not imposing as we don’t want to increase eco anxiety.
Everything is awful. We’re all going to die. Focus on the positives! Harry mentioned that there are negatives, but there are some positives with how we are moving forward. For example, positive news stories like inventions that are green! Show them things that can be changed EASILY (e.g. meat free Mondays!).
My student’s aren’t interested. Don’t only look at it when it comes up in the book. Harry also said that if we can make reported speech fun we should be able to make climate stuff fun as well!

Emma Heyderman – Seven Activities to Develop Seven 21st Century Skills

Emma’s talk focused on the 7Cs:

  • Collaboratoion
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Critical thining
  • Career and learning self-reliance
  • Computing
  • Cross-cultural understanding s

She then went on to show a number of activities that can be used in the classroom to develop each of these.

  • Critical thinking: Think beyond the picture – Get learners to look at images and think further than ‘what they see’. For example, take photos from your course book unit, present them and ask learners to identify the them and engage in critical thinking. For example, looking at the following image we might ask the following questions:
    • Does this represent a typical family? (tying in nicely with what Simon was saying!)
    • Where might we be able to see this and why?
  • Computing: Rather than providing learners with complete skeletons for the traditional information gap activity, why not get learners to complete their own skeletons through research using computers? For example, you might have an information gap activity in which one learner has the information for a festival in Spain while the other has the information for a festival in France. Instead of giving them all the information, ask them to find the information first, before moving into the information gap activity.
  • Communication: Ask learners to respond to questions that act as follow-ups to new items. For example, when learners hear and learn new idioms, e.g. to give someone the low-down, they are then asked: When was the last time you gave someone the low-down. These follow up questions can then be used in conversation and built around a conversation in which learners go deeper.
  • Cross-cultural understanding: Creating situations in which we can ‘usualise’ things that are outside our ‘normal’ and disrupt the standard rhetoric (e.g. all athletes are super strong, tall and male). Emma stresses the idea that we need to create space where everyone feels wanted! Another great way to do this is through learners discussing names – origins, meanings and how they feel about their names.
  • Career and learning self-reliance: Learners as teachers! Learners can be tasked with preparing a lesson in which they teach a part of the course book (e.g. grammar).

I had some connection problems and missed the last two activities 😦 Some really interesting points here though!

Emma also presented some reasons for and against the teaching of the 7Cs:

For Against
Why bother?
Tight syllabuses
Replaces content with skills
We’re subject teachers
Academic, cerebral
Why not? Why bother is not good enough.
Whose syllabus is it? How are syllabuses defined with out learners needs and wants in mind!
Fuses content WITH skills
We’re educators and models, not only English language teachers!
Affective, academic…
Diversity and acceptance
Learner independence
Value on higher-order thinking skills

Chia Suan Chong – Helping our students become more effective international communicators

  • Chia asked us to think about what the skills of an international communicator are. This is what she said are the top 10:
    • Self-awareness and the ability to reflect
    • Curiosity about the other (beliefs, values, ways of thinking)
    • Mindfulness and Perceptiveness (the ability to be sensitive to what occurs)
    • Open-mindedness and not judging others based on culture, point of views, etc.
    • Patience and tolerance of ambiguity (t’s ok to be in the ‘grey’ area – not always in the black or white!)
    • Emotional strength
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Communication skills
    • Flexibility and adaptability
    • Sense of identity and objectives
  • Chia encouraged us to look at cultural from a more pragmatic perspective; that is, as English is a tool for global communication, we shouldn’t simply look at ‘British culture’ – we need to go further than generalisations and stereotypes. We need to look at how cultural shapes how we communicate!
  • Chia spoke about a time that she experienced culture shock and then stressed the point that culture is more than festivals, etc. We have cultural filters, and culture is vey fluid – and this is why the ‘dos and don’ts’ approach to culture are inadequate.
  • Chia spoke about the illusion of transparency: We always know what we mean and we expect others to know it as well. When we don’t think about what the other person does not know or what we’ve taken for granted, issues in communication are likely to arise. Learners need to be aware of this.
  • Chia also spoke about how we run certain scripts or speech events. These are almost ritualistic and follow unsaid rules. When we operate under the expectation that everyone we speak with follows or knows these rules, we open ourselves up for communication issues.
  • We can help learners be better international communicators by providing them with certain strategies, such a s the Score communication principles
    • Simplify and specify
    • Clarify and confirm
    • Organise and outline
    • Rephrase and reframe
    • Explain with examples
  • Remember that we need to understand the cultural iceberg; that is, what are the underlying beliefs, values, etc.

Final notes

I just want to say a huge thank you to Lisa Dold for all her work in setting up the conference as well as helping me get set up for my workshop. I went in expecting loads of good sessions and I came out with my expectations meant. As usual, another great ACEIA conference. This being said, I can’t wait till we can do this face-to-face!


  1. catherinemcfarlane says:

    Thanks very much for the really useful summary! I wish I’d been there! There are some great ideas here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Catherine! Hopefully you can be at the next one!


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