TESOL-Italy’s 36th National Convention

Rome, 18-19 November 2011

WORDS AND WORLDS

by Biljana Radić-Bojanić, PhD, Assistant Professor

(Department of English, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Novi Sad)

Despite the expectance of a windy, rainy, cloudy autumn in Rome, I was welcomed, around midnight, by a gentle breeze and dim lights of the eternal city. Drowsy and tired, I could not wait to wake up the next day and start wandering around, exploring and soaking in the beauty that surrounded me. Floating on sheer poetry, encountering the ghosts of dead emperors and gladiators, I spent two pre-conference days thankful for the time and opportunity to come here. All this splendor took toll on my feet so I was thankful beyond bliss when the conference organizers offered to arrange a bus to take us to the venue. The bus ride was long, which, contrary to any prototypical expectation, was a good thing! It helped us, conference presenters, get to know one another: you would eventually start talking to the person next to you as it would be quite uncomfortable to sit out the entirety of the journey, knowing that someone else was on the same mission as you were yet you chose not to talk to them. Plus, the long, long journey turned out to be not as long.

The conference itself started at 9.00 with an opening speech of TESOL Italy President and representatives of the American Embassy and the British Council, which was followed by the first set of parallel sessions. After the coffee break, the first plenary speaker, Do Coyle, offered his view of CLIL emphasizing the learner’s perspective. His talk was based on the results of a study conducted with over 650 learners in the UK and he concluded that this demanding and challenging approach to integrative teaching will definitely affect and change classroom practices. Two parallel sessions and a lunch later, another plenary speaker, Deborah Short, delivered a talk on the importance of academic literacy, stressing the need to develop a whole network of different skills and types of knowledge (e.g. background knowledge and experience, vocabulary, academic oral skills, etc.) as that is the best way to empower students and lead them to academic success. The first conference day was ended with another two parallel sessions and an evening of music.

The second day started with the TESOL-Italy General Assembly, which was followed by parallel sessions and a plenary talk delivered by Geraldine Mark. She referred to the Common European Framework of Reference in order to provide a context for presenting and elaborating on the project called The English Profile. Based on an ever-growing corpus of learner language, both spoken and written, this project has given excellent insight into the factors that affect the growth of students’ grammatical competence: as it turns out, grammar and vocabulary grow and develop hand in hand as the learners’ competence grows through the levels. Another plenary also focused on grammar, this time “grammar in the real world”. Jon Hird stressed the importance of using authentic language in teaching as that would effectively help students get the feel of how language truly sounds and what native speakers say in everyday situations. The third and the last plenary speaker of the conference addressed one of my favorite issues, critical thinking. Janet Orr discussed how critical thinking is a skill that can be developed with learners from the very beginning by teaching them a set of simple strategies which will enable them to develop not just lower, but also higher cognitive functions.

The parallel sessions at the conference covered a whole range of topics and fields: CLIL, lexis and grammar, motivation, primary and secondary language education, development of skills and university education. Some of the presentations were research-based and aimed at providing new angles and promoting innovations in language teaching, whereas others were channels for more experienced teachers to relay their practice to those in need of instructions with a simple, hands-on approach. Logically, I was not able to attend all the talks but the ones that I did attend certainly challenged some of my opinions and beliefs.
On the eve of the second day of the conference, stressed by the fog descending on Belgrade airport, wondering if I would land in Niš, Timisoara, Osijek, I left Rome with a heavy heart and a secret sigh, hoping to come back, academically, touristically, whateverically, to come back.

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