Conference notes – Innovate ELT 2022

Innovate 2022 – Back into face-to-face conferences with a blast

When I sent my proposal through to Oxford TEFL for the 2022 Innovate ELT conference, I was really hoping that it would be accepted for two reasons. One, I wanted to share my ideas on using tasks with Young Learners, and two, I wanted to get back to in-person conferences! The conference has now come and gone… and I have to say that it was a great conference! This blog post really is an overview of what talks I went to and my takeaways – but it is also serves as a response to a brilliant conference that allowed me to engage with friends from afar, and make new friends from loads of different areas of ELT.

To provide a little structure to this post, I’ll present the abstract of the workshop and then move through my summary/takeaways. I’ll also be touching on how my talk went – and the feelings that I went through before, during and after.

P.S. Just so you all know – I only attended the Saturday sessions!!

Plenary 1: Nicola Meldrum

In the (super short) plenary, Nicola reflected on her very long career within ELT, noting some of the things she wish she’d done earlier. The main points she focused on was this idea of ‘bursting our own bubble’. Basically, we need to be working and engaging with everyone and anyone. She went further and spoke about three principles she has taken from Agile, a start-up methodology:

  1. The individual over processes and tools: We need to really focus on the learner, and what the learner gets from ‘teaching’ – not only focusing on our plan and what we ‘want’ learners to get out of the lesson/course.
  2. Customer collaboration: Let’s replace customer with student, and let’s get the idea of an ‘ongoing’ needs analysis into a heads. In effect, we need to be working with and acting on feedback and input from our customers, aka students, because at the end of the day, they are the ones this is all for.
  3. Respond to change over following a plan: I think this is pretty clear, and the old adage ‘teach the learner not the plan’ comes to mind.

I really connected with what Nicola was saying, and I like to think that I am one of those DoSs who is trying to get their teachers to do this. But, am I providing the enough resources and support? Am I reacting enough, and not simply sticking to our original plans? This is something I will need to consider. I feel that we do, but in terms of an ‘on-going’ needs analysis, Nicola referred to having constant feedback loops from students, and at an academy level we have this, but rarely is it passed on (or even managed by) to teachers. This is something that could be changed (by changed I mean teachers could be introduced to the idea and provided with some ideas on how to implement an on-going feedback loop).

Now, Nicola has been involved in teacher education for some time, and I feel that her points are also relevant to teacher education, not only language education. In fact, by doing these ‘things’, we are creating conditions for success.

Plenary 2: Duncan Foord

Duncan held quite a controversial plenary. In effect, he asked us to reconsider many of the processes we ask teachers to go through, and encouraged us to not ‘over intellectualise’ teaching as he views it as a skill to be developed/honed. To go along with this, he put forward a very interesting and useful set of criteria that every lesson should be able to be assessed against:

  1. Challenge: Learners need to be challenged in some way – and that might be learning something new, being pushed to communicate in a new way, etc.
  2. Useful: What learners learn needs to be useful to them in some way. They need to be able to see the communicative value in what they learn.
  3. Enjoyable: Whilst this doesn’t mean ‘fun’, it can involve fun. Enjoyable refers to the idea that learners have a good time – well, at least not a bad time – while learning.

Duncan really drove the point home by asking the question: What do learners think of your lesson plan? The answer being “they don’t”. He made a point about certain checklists on certain certificate courses being so ‘ticky boxey’ that teachers often get carried away with trying to meet everything – which often leads to poor lessons in which the teachers focus on the plan and the criteria as opposed to the learners and their learning.

Duncan finished by offering three ‘principles’:

  1. Teachers should be focused on C.U.E. (see above)
  2. Lesson plans should not be assessed (although they are useful, but not necessarily in the form that many currently do them)
  3. Everything should be framed/viewed from the learner’s point of view

Now, I say that this plenary was a little controversial because in effect Duncan said that we shouldn’t be assessing lesson plans and that many certificate courses were ‘doing things wrong’. From someone who has moved away from formal lesson plans and observations (I don’t feel they reflect real lesson planning at all), I do agree. I also agree that the three criteria mentioned can be great to focus on (especially when collecting data from learners, i.e., asking them questions centred on these points is a really good idea!). However, I do think that as teachers get more experienced there is a good rationale for ‘intellectualising’ teaching and having assessed lesson plans (although C.U.E still needs to be focused on). Many of my teacher trainer friends also had some interesting things to say!!!

I think Duncan’s talk did a very good job at getting people talking, and I hope they continue to talk about it. Whilst I don’t agree with everything he said, I certainly do agree that there is not enough focus on ‘learners and learning’. Be interested to know your thoughts!

On a side note, we are implementing three-way observations this year, and for the learner component, the CUE criteria is going to fit in really well. I’ve already used the CUE criteria in with a teacher this week, and it got some good conversation going, with much of the discussion focused on the effects of teacher behaviour ON learner behaviour.

Becky Ray: Classroom management Revisited

Becky’s workshop centred on classroom management with Young Learner/extraescolares classes. We looked at loads of really interesting ideas:

  • Lesson objectives: Set lesson objectives and show them to learners. This is something I am particularly enthusiastic about – this idea of success criteria. Learners are more at ease when they know what they are going to do, and plus it gives a clear ‘target’ in mind, and can help with seeing if everything is on track or not.
  • The Bomb: Basically this is a visual classroom management tool that can be used to get learners back on track. You have a ‘bomb’ on the board, with the ‘fuse’ stretching from the bomb to the top of the board. Every time there is some off-task or bad behaviour, a little bit of the fuse is removed. If learners do something ‘good’, they get a little bit back. Becky is adamant that the bomb should never ‘go off’ – and emphasised that we should be reinforcing good behaviour as opposed to punishing bad behaviour.
  • Start the class with movement: Becky emphasised that YLs are movement-focused a lot of the time, and said that we should start the class with ‘movement’. Something as simple as touch something blue! touch something red can be great.
  • Clear the board: Becky presented us with a game called clear the board. Basically, there is a list of questions or pieces of language learners need to work their way through. Team one starts from the top, team two starts from the bottom (and they move either up or down). Whichever team starts continues until they make a mistake, and then the other team gets their shot. Whichever team finishes all of the questions first, wins!
  • Chinese Whispers: For those us ‘oldies’, we know this one. Basically, the teacher puts the class into teams, and the teams are put into lines. The teacher then gives each team a sentence or phrase. The objective for the team is to get this sentences from one end to the other, whispering between people. The last person in the line needs to write what was said. Fun game, difficult at times as well.

As I don’t have any YL classes on my timetable this year, I am most looking forward to passing these ideas onto my teachers.

Michelle Worgan: Inspiring Inquiries!

Michelle, who if you don’t know is an inclusive education guru with her own courses (you can check out her website here!), took us through the ins-and-outs of inquiry-based learning and its benefits (from both a YL and inclusive education perspective). First of all, we looked at different types of inquiry (see picture), and Michelle noted that our goal should be to help learners develop enough sense of what they are doing so that they can engage in the more ‘freer’ types of inquiry – in effect, the more learner-centred types of inquiry.

We then looked at an example ‘inquiry’ and a general overview of how the inquiry process could happen. In the image, you girl thinking is supposed to indicate reflection.

Michelle also put us to work, as any good teacher educator should. She gave us some time in groups to think about an inquiry lesson(s), and think about the things that we might need, the question we might want to focus on, and the things learners might struggle with, etc. It was interesting as one of the major starting points is question creation, and as a group we actually struggled to come up with a clear major question and then follow this up with smaller essential questions. After some debate, we got there, and then we started to see the ‘plan’ coming out. Because of time, we didn’t get to finish our plan (45-minutes for a workshop is just not enough), but the workshop did leave us with a much clearer understanding of how to go about using inquiry-based learning.

I have to admit that this workshop resonated with me as I think that this is the type of learning that does lead to independent learners. In fact, when the workshop started, it reminded me of Sugata Mitra’s talk on Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs). I must admit that teachers will need support in implementing such as approach (hence Michelle’s courses!), but once teachers get over the initial hurdle of wanting to engage in inquiry-based learning, then I think there will be many successes 🙂

Also, Michelle has created an inclusive pedagogies framework which can be accessed here!

Sophie Wilmot: Integrating yoga, art and movement into the YL classroom

Sophie, the founder of Aria, ran a brilliant workshop focused on bringing yoga, art and movement into the classroom. But it was than simply doing these things – she showed how these kinesthetic learning tools could be integrated with short, children’s texts.

To summarise, she advocated first choosing a text that is appropriate to the learners’ level, then choosing some kind of craft to go along with it. She showed us some pictures of her children creating a forest, rivers, and all sorts of lovely things. Then, she recommended we choose either yoga or dance for the physical interpretation of the story.

We then had a chance to think about how we might work with a text and create a lesson that incorporated yoga/dance and art. My group was given the book Giraffes can’t dance. It brought up a lot of conversation and perspectives – but the one thing that was clear was that thinking about the three things Sophie mentioned – start with a text, do a craft, reinterpret through yoga/dance – made it really easy to see how things could ‘come to life’.

Reflecting on my own teaching experience, I can say that I’ve used stories a lot, but the one thing I haven’t really done (not at this level, at least) is a full reinterpretation of the story through multiple ‘modes’. I can certainly see the benefit from an engagement perspective, as well as a repeated exposure (thinking about SLA here) one.

Teresa Bestwick: Local or Global? Alternative approaches to CPD

For those that have seen Sponge Chats, you would be very familiar with Teresa as she was an amazing guest who shared her journey into teacher education! Her workshop focused on something related to that which we spoke about in the Sponge Chat – CPD. However, Teresa went into detail about how she set up two different CPD groups: TEFL del Sur and The TEFL Development Hub.

Some takeaways from this session:

  • If you’re starting with a local CPD group, start with teachers you know.
  • Advertise and get people from different institutions involved if you can.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people for money, if you’re putting on a mini-conference
  • Consider whether you want the development group to be just that or a business also (as there is a lot of extra stuff to do if it’s a business)
  • Be aware that the level of engagement in the local and global groups may be different

It was really interesting to hear about Teresa’s success stories, especially as I tried to do something similar in my context recently and things didn’t go as planned.

For those of you that haven’t been to check out the TEFL Development Hub yet, I highly recommend you do as there are literally loads of goodies!

My own session: Using tasks with Young Learners

I’d like to try something new here. I’m going to be using Gibb’s (1988) Reflective Cycle to go over the workshop, and reflect on how it all went. You can find my handouts, etc. here.


My session focused on using tasks, mainly input-based tasks, with Young Learners. I had a number of session success criteria:

We started by learning what TBLT and task are by, you guessed it, completing a ‘task’. I wanted teachers to experience, in some way, what input-based tasks were. We then looked at some tips for using tasks with YLs, and completed some example tasks – one of which included teachers playing around with Lego! As every good workshop should, we finished with some reflection (again using something stolen from Rachel Tsateri!).


Getting closer to the date, I was finalised the workshop (slides, procedures, etc.) and I started to really feel like I had a good workshop put together. The key element, though, was the practice run throughs. On the first run through I did with Patrick (my director), I felt like I was missing a few things, and that made me feel ‘off’. I didn’t feel like it was hitting the mark. So, I changed a few things and then did another two run throughs. Feeling much better now. On the morning of the conference, I did another quick run through in my hotel, and it was then that I felt ‘ready’.

Right before the workshop I was feeling ‘jittery’. It might have been because of the coffee, but I doubt it. I usually feel this way. I went to the room about 40 minutes before my session (there was a break at this time) and set up. Once I had everything set up, I walked around the room and visualised how I was going to run the activities. I felt the jittery feeling dissipating, and a sort of excitement rising instead. When everyone started arriving, I felt both excited and nervous. Excited because I get to work with a great bunch of teachers, focusing on a topic that I feel is really important. Nervous because I had some very, very well-known ELT people in my room. I noticed that when I felt that way, I said to myself “you know your sh*t, so you got this”. Positive self talk wins again.

As the session progressed, I knew that it was going well from the reactions of those present: they were engaged, discussing the topics, but also taking notes and asking questions. Exactly what I wanted. From here, I felt in my element. This feeling last till the end of the session, at which state relief came – finished! Done! I also got some really good feedback from some of those that attended, which made me feel on the top of the moon.


On reflection, I noticed that there were a few areas that the workshop could be improved:

  • More in-depth videos: I used videos of teachers and learners in the workshop, but in the videos I didn’t show all of the ‘tips’ that I was advocating. I feel that getting a video with every tip is difficult, but perhaps a ‘model’ video that is ‘planned’ may have been beneficial.
  • More time on discussion of videos: I moved through the example videos quite quickly, and didn’t really have time for question or an in-depth analysis. This would have been a nice inclusion as I think many of the teachers did have questions. Whilst I did answer a few, I noted that I was short on time, so moved on quickly – so, yes conference constraints worked against me, but perhaps I could still move a few things around to make space for such a discussion.
  • No push for feedback: I created this lovely digital handout, and within it there a link to give me some feedback. So far, no-one has completed it, and as I wanted more specific feedback, I should have pushed teachers to complete it there and then.


So, overall, this experience/workshop was positive. But, what made it a positive and successful ‘event’. A few things come to mind:

  • Preparation: I prepared thoroughly for the workshop, both in terms of research (I’ve spent years reading about and working with TBLT and YLs), ‘procedures’ (I really thought about how I wanted the teachers to interact, and what they were to speak about), and materials.
  • Rehearsal: Rehearsals definitely helped me move into the session with confidence. The rehearsals didn’t make me rigid, however. Rather, they helped me have in mind the general overview of how the session should run, and from there I had more ‘cognitive power’ to focus on things that came up in the session (e.g., spending more time on one activity than another or responding to a question).
  • Important topic: Another reason I think it was positive was the fact that I like the topic I was presenting on. This is a no-brainer, but it is important. I have presented on topics that I thought were dead boring before, and I could feel it not being a successful as it should have been.
  • Motivated teachers: Those attending were motivated. They chose the session. The wanted to learn and engage with others, focusing on TBLT and YLs. Half of my work was done by them!


Overall, a solid workshop in my opinion. This being said, the workshop itself could be improved to leave more room for teacher discussion at certain stages.

Action plan

So, how do I go about making the changes? Well, this is fairly easy. One, I need to cut down on some slides/activities before the videos (I already have two in mind) and then do another run through, but having brainstormed potential thinking questions beforehand. By thinking of these thinking questions, i.e., questions that are likely to takes teachers’ discussions further, I should have plenty of primed materials to go for when I do it again.

Final notes on the conference

I absolutely loved this conference for a whole range of reasons:

  • The mosh-pit: The Oxford House garden is like a mosh-pit filled with ELT rockstars. Given a few more beers, I’m sure that it could have turned into an actual mosh pit. It was great to have plenaries in such an informal, chilled-out fashion.
  • Meeting up with old friends: I got to meet so many old friends – Teresa, Harry, Ethan, Riccardo, Jenny, Emma, and Silvina (I’m sorry if I’ve missed any names!). I also got to meet many new friends such as Michelle, Laura, Shavy, Anthony, Georgie, Sophie, Duncan, Luke, and loads more!
  • In-person: Oh my days, I am so happy to be back to in-person conferences. I know the online conferences were good, but in-person conferences rock.
  • Presenting in classrooms: This was my first conference in which workshops are done in classrooms. This is much better than the old conference hall, although space is limited.
Credit goes to Neil McMillan for this pic!
  • Organisation: I want to say a huge thanks to Duncan Foord, Luke Worsnop and Natália Corrêa for putting on an amazing conference. There were loads of quality talks, and there were plenty of coffee/drink breaks – plenty of social time.

Anyone thinking of attending Innovate ELT next year, should definitely do so. It is most certainly worth it 🙂


  1. Rachel Tsateri says:

    Thanks for reporting back! 😎 Wow-too bad I missed this conference. Amazing sessions and it’d be great to attend them with you and all our ELT colleagues who were there! Love the pics, too!

    By the way, I’m not sure you’ve noticed this but when you’re reflecting on your workshop, your positive feeling is a 6-line paragraph, whereas your to-be-improved plus action-plan is a 23-line section! You need to change this, pronto!!😁
    For what it’s worth, I read your posts with as much interest as I read famous ELT authors. I always learn from you, even when you’re writing about a book I’ve already read. 😁

    So next time, more positives please! 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahaha you’re right! I hadn’t really noticed, but I’ll be sure to make more positive notes – I do feel really good about the session! Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      And, there will be more Innovates! And IATEFLs! We will catch up at one of these sooner rather than later 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Duncan Foord says:

    Thanks Jim for such a brilliant summary of the talks you attended and the conference in general. As a speaker, I am sure you will agree, it’s great to have this feedback, to feel heard beyond “thanks for an interesting session” which is all we often have time for. Thank you also for your inspiring comments on the conference and why you like it. It really helps us to keep on our toes and keep going. See you next year if not before!

    Liked by 1 person

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