IATEFL 2015 Reports

IATEFL 2015 Highlights by Kirsty D´Ambrosio

Dyslexia and related SPLDs.  Simple Strategies for maximum inclusion

Anne Margaret Smith.

This year there was a special dyslexia forum. Although I couldn´t get into this event as it was mobbed, Anne Margaret Smith ran another workshop on the final day: “Dyslexia and related SPLDs: simple strategies for maximum inclusion.” It was well worth queuing up for!

Anne runs ELT well, http://www.eltwell.co.uk/ which bridges the gap between English language learning and specific learning differences such as dyslexia. She currently works with dyslexic students at the University of Cumbria and has recently co-tutored on Lancaster University´s four week MOOC on Dyslexia and Language teaching. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/dyslexia

In her seminar Anne provided a useful general overview of dyslexia and other SpLDs, which she refers to as specific learning differences not difficulties. She mentions that dyslexia commonly co-occurs with Dyspraxia, Dyscalcula, Asperger´s Syndrome and ADHD and outlines common challenges of SPLDs such as memory and concentration, organisation and sequencing, sensory processing, coordination and social skills.

Students may commonly have some of the following issues with language learning: time and tenses, spelling and handwriting, processing/sequencing sounds and speech, reading aloud, deciphering text, selecting and maintaining appropriate conversation topics and engaging in speaking activities,

Anne gave a lot of practical ideas on how to cater for dyslexic students in class. She suggests that teaching should boost self esteem and confidence since many students may have experienced a lot of failure in their lives. She recommends that teachers create a suitable learning environment, ensuring light, noise and heating levels are appropriate and minimising distractions such as a busy board and posters.

In terms of teaching approaches, she emphasises the importance of introducing language in manageable chunks and building in regular repetition and review. Teachers should help students develop meta linguistic or memorisation strategies such as using mnemonics for vocabulary learning, giving students timed memorisation challenges which are built up gradually

Anne also provided information on a range of teaching aids which can be used to support learning. Reading rulers, coloured overlays or text windows (a small piece of card cut in the shape of a window) can help students focus on different sections of text.  Multi sensory tools such as Cuisenaire rods, sentence cards or wikkistix help students form letters, words or sentences. For students who struggle with writing, Anne suggests collaborative writing tasks or notes taking, voice recording or speak to text software.

Anne also highlights the importance of building in processing time for activities. Dyslexic students don´t like to be put on the spot. If students are expected to respond to a question they should be given a few minutes to process the information and prepare a response. The same applies to speaking activities, though students may also need additional support to understand non verbal clues such as eye contact, appropriate body language and conversation topics.

Anne and her colleagues are doing a huge amount of excellent work on dyslexia and the foreign language classroom. Unfortunately I could not participate in the recent MOOC but it appears to have been very insightful. One participant, Lisa Stevens, who completed the online course, has written a really interesting blog with fantastic mind maps summarising key content from the course. See some of her amazing mind maps below. The full set can be viewed at: http://lisibo.com/2015/05/05/-


For some time I have been thinking about ways to incorporate technology in the classroom to appeal to digital savvy teenagers. I have four ipads that currently sit in a cupboard which I am reluctant to use due to lack of technical and pedagogical knowledge. I decided to attend a few workshops at IAETFL to get some guidance on how to integrate mobile devices in the classroom and some practical teaching suggestions.

Practical issues

Nicky Hockly´s session “Noah´s Ark. Planning for mobile learning” highlighted some important questions to consider before introducing mobile devices in the classroom and provided some practical guidance and ideas for teachers.

She outlined various options for schools such as buying class sets or getting students to bring their own devices (BYOD). Nicky suggests that if teachers want to use the BYOD model they should do some kind of inventory/questionnaire to get an awareness of models, functions and applications on phones before designing tasks.

Ipads require reasonable coordination and operational skills and teachers must research and download apps, which can be time consuming. Schools must also consider online safety as well as classroom management strategies (acceptable use policies) when using mobile devices to ensure appropriate usage and task completion.


Teaching Suggestions                               

Past Continuous- 4, 6, 8 selfies. For homework ask students to set three alarms for after the class (e.g. 4pm. 6pm and 8pm) and students must take a selfie when their alarm goes off. In the next class they show their photos to a partner and discuss what they were doing. If students have Whats App, they could post up their selfie online with a short message saying what they are/were doing at a particular time.

For other teaching activities see Nicky´s blog http://www.emoderationskills.com/

Jane Cohen, in her talk Mobile Learning-Empowering Teachers, also gave some interesting ideas for the classroom.

Icebreaker/warmer: Ask students to take out their phone and choose a photo. Students walk around the room and talk about their picture. At the end students share what they have learned about each other.

QR Codes (Quick response codes)

Teachers make up quizzes which students complete by scanning a bar code (QR code) that takes them to a question or challenge. A QR reader app needs to be installed in the device prior to doing this activity.

Silent clips.

Find a short clip for students and play it silently. One student has their back to the video and another watches it and describes what is happening to their partner. This is great for developing oral fluency and also practising grammar structures e.g. there is/there are.


Take some new words from a coursebook the students have been using and make a word list using quizlet (you can also record audio to accompany the word so students can hear the pronunciation). Students must race to match the words and translations. Quizlet can be good to help students retain new language.

For more ideas see Jane´s blog


Jessica Cobley and Becky Steven´s workshop “Feeding speaking fluency. Using technology to raise the bar” talked about a few useful apps such as Otterwave and Ah Counter to develop speaking fluency and improve pronunciation. Otterwave (An American app- Apply only) is good for students with pronunciation issues since it gives them a model sentence which they copy and record and their pronunciation is graded. I have used this application since the workshop and found it had mixed results. The American accent didn´t appeal to me but teachers can record their own model sentences using local accents which students can copy.

Another App recommended in the workshop was the Ah counter (compatible with Android and Apple devices.) It is good for students who are preparing for an oral presentation or exam. One student speaks on a topic and the other listens and taps a button every time they hear a student repeat themselves or hesitate. Students can repeat the task as my times as they like to try to improve their score by hesitating less. This tends to be more motivating for students and gives them a clear reason and goal for re-doing a task.




K D´Ambrosio

After listening to so many inspiring speakers at IATEFL 2015, I decided to do an action research project to put into practise some of the things I had learned.

I did one lesson on music with my YLS class using mobile devices in the classroom. I didn´t have wifi access so I had to download some apps on my Ipads to use in class.

I used an app named Skitch (a note taking application) to brainstorm vocabulary relating to music.  You can take a picture or screen shot and then students can write/type text on top of the image.  I wanted to activate students knowledge of lexical vocabulary related to music through visual images. Images generated quite a lot of lexis though students did need some technical support.

I then wrote some different questions on the board and got students to interview their partners to find out about their music preferences. Students were given some preparation time before recording the interview on Voice Morph (an app which transforms voices) to encourage them to develop their answers. Students were encouraged to record a few times to improve accuracy/pronunciation. Students then listened back to themselves and changed their voices using the morph tool. We then conducted a short discussion on using mobile phones outside class to make personal recordings to encourage learner autonomy.

The voice recording activity worked quite well and encouraged shyer students to speak as they were keen to listen back to their recordings using the voice morphing tool. However some students were more interested in changing their voice than actually listening to utterances so opportunities for self correction and upgrading language were limited.

The most successful activity was a QR code treasure hunt which required students to follow some “musical” clues which took them to different locations outside in the centre of Edinburgh. The clue required them to follow some directions and answer some short questions e.g. what music instrument can you see in the shop window? Students came back to class buzzing and were keen to show pictures and selfies taken.

I now realise the potential of using mobile devices in the class though I have learned that using Ipads without an internet connection is limiting and designing purposeful tasks with clear goals is really challenging. Students also need a lot of technical support until they are familiar with applications/functions.

I hope to continue using mobile devices in the future and I now have a good awareness of theoretical and practical issues which should allow me to make more informed judgements in the future.