JALT PanSIG 2018—A Conference Review

Review by Angela Wren

The diversity of the presentations (25 mins), poster presentations (55 mins), SIG forums (85 mins), and plenary conversations (55 mins) at this year’s conference was refreshing.

 “PanSIG is not just for university educators; it is also for eikaiwa teachers, ALTs, and public school teachers” – Conference Chair Jennie Roloff Rothmon

For educators of younger learners

Everyone is interested in what the future of English education looks like in Japan. The audience for Alison Nemoto’s popular Getting Ready for 2020 presentation included a games developer, a parent, university lecturers, elementary teachers and teacher trainers. Highlights of the new MEXT ES textbooks are that they are child-centered and focus on communicative language. It is hoped that the extra hours for English learning will provide more chances for student interaction,presentations, and more English input beyond the expected student output.

For teachers in any context

In The Role of Working and Short-Term Memory in L2 LearningPeter Wanner discussed how to keep students’ working memory free to focus wholly on language by breaking tasks into small steps, avoiding redundancy in excessive teacher talk and using memory aids such as checklists. In Steve Paton’s engaging talk Eliciting Student Answers: Finding what it takeshe shared practical ways to make teacher and student interaction “normal, friendly human communication.”

Using humour and cartoons to disarm reluctant speakers, he showed how he has students think about, “why are they here?” and learn to speak English by doing it!

For textbook or course designers

Two research presentations that took an analytical look at textbooks were Cameron Romney’s The Purpose of Images in ELT Textbooks Revisited and Chie Kawashima’s Speech Acts Presented in Japanese EFL Textbooks. The identification of the role of images in textbooks, and the evaluation of grammatical forms used in common speech acts were useful for those interested in choosing or creating course materials, rather than being directly related to teaching skills.

For task designers

Task and curriculum design is my pet interest, so I may be biased when I nominate this presentation as having the most original ideas and fresh content of the weekend. Stephen Case’s Incorporating the Best Practices of Game Design into Task Design went into depth on how the ideas from video and board games can be put into analogue format for classroom use. He broke down the concepts behind successful game design, and gave examples as well as some extensions to familiar tasks. We left inspired by new ideas and ways to use the concepts in our own “engaging, motivating and educational” task design.

Alec Lapidus’s Multiliteracies: Comics and Sociocultural Theory was another presentation which focused on practical teaching ideas and the theory behind why it works. His use of comics to fill in the gaps of knowledge, both culturalandlinguistic, of newly-arrived refugee students in an ESL context, could also be adapted to the Japanese EFL context. He demonstrated how to use comics in diverse ways such as visually expressing new grammar points or exploring social issues with lower language level students.

For educators exploring alternative career pathways and language school owners

The Lifelong Language Learning SIG’s Career Design in the Lives of Teachers forum from Gregory Strong, Charles Browne, Joseph Dias and Blair Thomson covered topics as wide reaching as building a portfolio career, wealth accumulation, achievements through volunteering and long term financial planning.

Grant Osterman’s School Ownership: The Unbiased Reality and John Gayed’s Driving Traffic to Your School via Google were both helpfulpresentationsfor anyone considering whether starting a private language school is feasible and desirable in their situation.

For educators with an abundance of energy

The Speech, Drama and Debate SIG Forumfeaturing speakers Gordon Rees, Jason White, Vivian Bussinguer-Khavari, Chris Parham, Cynthia Gonzales, Rachel Stuart and Angela Wren, included drama activities which got us all moving, a different take on drama using radio plays, a debate curriculum, and debate skills for SHS, JHS and even ES students. Despite it being the last time slot of the day, it was a popular forum with a decidedly Kansai presence, full of ideas, energy, enthusiasm and creativity.

The onsite JALT and student volunteers, and of course the behind-the-scenes planning volunteers, did a great job putting on an event packed with ideas for all educators. The presenters and participants of this year’s JALT PanSIG Conference were knowledgeable and welcoming, and made the event worthwhile. With thanks to all involved for another successful conference.

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