The end of March is traditionally the school spring break week in Russia, for pupils.

Teachers have meetings, reports, reviews, school contests, and lesson plans writing, to name but a few. Among the many occupations, there are some that stand out as very pleasant activities, and a methodology seminar may actually turn out to be one of them. We were extremely fortunate to welcome Phil Warwick, a British EL teacher, in our city on March 26. When I Googled him, I thought to myself, Wow! What can a person who really wants to be an EL teacher do! Phil got his B-TEC National Diploma in Business Studies from the Hastings College of Further Education. To teach English, he gained his Trinity Certificate TESOL, and the Trinity Diploma TESOL. He is now a fully qualified English teacher trainer. He spends most of the academic year in Brno, Czech Republic, and travels to many other countries.

Thanks to Pearson Education Publishers, and to their local representative Olga Kochenkova, we had an opportunity to listen to two wonderful lectures presented by Phil Warwick right here in Novosibirsk. It is not every day that we Siberians can hear a native speaker; it is also quite rare to encounter one who knows how to grab the audience’s attention during the first few seconds, and to hold it for the whole three hours. When we are part of the audience, it seems that the lecturer does his work effortlessly, yet I know from my own experience how hard it is.

Lecture 1, titled Learning, Playing and Growing in English, was devoted to teaching young learners, primary school children. Here are the two golden rules that Phil formulated for us:

  1. Start them as young as possible.
  2. Make each lesson as fun and as engaging as you can.

He repeatedly warned us that “fun” is an integral element, but not the defining principle of education. Pedagogy should be our focus. And he demonstrated how “fun” can be used when a teacher starts with something simple, and then progresses to more complicated tasks, within the same exercise. I was the first person to be called forward to help demonstrate an exercise, and I can attest to it that keeping up with the ever-increasing tempo was not too easy! In another exercise, the audience was asked to play a word-association game, using any words that came to mind but those beginning with a C or an S. Needless to say, once people heard “table”, they automatically responded with “chair”, which immediately made them realize the “mistake” and laugh. Naturally there were many illustrations, audio and video clips to help make any lesson lively and exciting.

At the end of the first session, Phil Warwick summed it up concisely:

We can teach English using exercises and tasks which are easy to learn but difficult to master.

Lecture 2, titled Teenagers, the 3 P’s and the 4 C’s, was a logical continuation of the previous one.

The 3 P’s are Present, Practice and Produce; the 4 C’s are Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking and Creativity.

Let me just state the obvious: while many adults regard teens as an alien species totally different from humans, we EL teachers still have to teach them. Listening to the lecture, I realized that I have been missing an important shift in modern pedagogy. My own children were in their “alien” stage of development a few years ago. They were born into digital age: for their generation, the Internet has ALWAYS existed. For me, on the other hand, ICT is an acquired skill. Today, we teachers have to deal not only with children whose whole vocabulary and modus vivendi are different, but also with the new breed of parents. As Phil told us, some primary school pupils’ parents are digital natives themselves. In a few years then, high school pupils’ parents may sound like aliens to us. This is a brave new world we are facing indeed.

It is not easy to help digitally literate children develop their productive skills, which are speaking and writing. Quite often, they seem to think that they do not need them anymore. This is where pedagogy comes to the fore: we not only use a certain approach, be it CLIL or Communicative or ICT-based learning. We need to demonstrate how and why our subject is important for students in the 21st century. If they can speak coherently, if they are fluent in a foreign language, how does it influence their future? If they can write a sensible essay, if they can express their ideas well in English, what exactly do they achieve? And why do they need all that anyway?

Those two excellent lectures gave me food for thought, which is what a teacher training session is all about.

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