Tesol Arabia Conference

Tesol Arabia Conference 
Review by Seda Ertüm Emirler
Tesol Arabia Conference is considered as the biggest conference and exhibition of its type in the region and this year’s theme was ‘Language, Culture, Communication and Transformations in intercultural contexts’. It was a 3-day conference and there were presenters from over 50 countries.

The title of my session was ‘Enhancing students’ speaking skills through speaking portfolio’. I first talked about the reasons why speaking is considered as the most difficult skill to achieve. Then, I talked about why I used the ‘speaking portfolio’ to foster my students’ speaking skills. One of the reasons was that ‘portfolios’ can function simultaneously as a teaching tool and as a way of providing feedback both for the teacher and the learner. Another reason was ‘portfolios’ help students reflect on their own learning which promotes ‘learner autonomy’. My session continued with the details of the ‘speaking portfolio’ I used in my class. I talked about the procedures and showed the audience the portfolio tasks and the self evaluation checklists which students used for their reflection. I ended up my session by talking about the results of this study and how students benefitted from it.
Some highlights from the sessions:

Plenary Session by Andy Curtis(Language, Culture, Communication: Individual, Institutional, International)
The speaker developed a ‘3-I’ model of Intercultural Competence. The first part is based on the idea of the ‘Individual as Cultural Artifact’. The second part of this ‘3-I’ model is ‘Institutional culture’.  He mentioned that for example; in China some internet sites are blocked. The reason for that is, they want to preserve their culture. However, he mentioned that it is about ‘control’ and because there is no language & cultural diversity, the culture dies. The third side of the model relates to ‘International Culture’. Language classrooms may constitute the ultimate ‘cultural melting pots’. It is, therefore, important to consider the relationships between language and culture in our own teaching and learning contexts.

One to One Online Tutoring: advantages/disadvantages by Thabet &  Abu Orouq
The speakers have shared their online tutoring experience in teaching TOEFL preparation courses. First, they have a meeting with the students and give placement tests. Then, the levels are created. The teachers have access to students’ computer screens so that they can make sure the students are doing the work. The teachers can also see how many times students have logged in. This tutoring program is financed by Abu Dhabi government, so if students fail to do the work, they are out of the program. Teachers use e-books and they use the application ‘Tinyscan’ (to scan everything they need and e-mail it). They need to do some admin work. For example, they fill in monthly reports. Teachers also give assignments and quizzes to check students’ understanding and they do on-spot correction. Some advantages mentioned during the session are; this program accommodates students’ needs, learners can learn at their own pace, lessons are tailored to students’ needs, students have more confidence and it improves their speaking skills. Some of the disadvantages of online tutoring program are; no compatibility with iPad, internet connection, technical issues, attendance etc.

Mindmapping Techniques to Enhance EFL Writing Skill by Bukhari
The presenter used structured mind maps in pre-writing phase and saw that it enhanced her students’ writing skills. Compared to traditional pre-writing techniques, the mind mapping techniques made a huge difference in students’ writing. She listed some advantages of mind maps. These are:
•    Using images, symbols, key words, codes & color (Students use different pens and they create mind maps together),
•    Prior knowledge is connected to new knowledge,
•    The learner builds up new ideas, shapes or constructs.
She also mentioned that students always focus on their grammar when writing. However, writing does not consist of the grammar only. Teachers need to realize that writing helps learners to reinforce their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Teachers should also encourage and make their learners use the mind maps independently to construct their own ideas on different topics so that they can realize the power of this tool too. 

Using portfolios in an undergraduate programme by Kershaw
Portfolios are productive for students to develop self-reflection and self-assessment which are both essential skills. The presenter used reflective portfolios in a Medical English programme and she mentioned how students valued them and their usefulness as an assessment tool. She talked about different portfolio tasks she used and some of these are;
•    Diagnostic tasks
•    Self assessment tasks
•    Learning style tasks (class presentations about learning, how we learn, questionnaires about learning style and learning approach- Students write short reflective essays on what they found)
•    Learning motivation tasks
•    Mind maps (Draw a mind map about your experience here at CMHS in the first four or five weeks. What is the central image or word? Plan on scrap paper/computer, then Transfer to large sheet)
•    Reflection on essay first draft
•    Role model (reflective writing task: Who is your role model? What qualities do you admire in your role model?)
•    Debate (Students participated in a formal debate in class. Afterwards, they were asked to do reflective writing)
•    Learning plan
•    Personal development
•    Peer review
The presenter also mentioned the benefits of portfolios for lecturers and the students. Students mentioned that their time management skills have improved. They also found reflection useful. Some of the benefits for the lecturers are; varied learning and class tasks with a clear purpose, authentic writing tasks alongside professional language development, developing and assessing professional skills, authentic and valid assessment.

English Language Learner Strategies for Classroom Teachers by Dansinghani & Khawaja
This workshop focused on providing teachers with opportunities to explore English Language Learner resources and strategies. Presenters shared Kagan’s Cooperative Learning Strategies. These strategies are available at: www.laspdg.org/files/2-kagan-strats.pdf