YALS and British Council Seminar with Nick Bilbrough

Reported by Mirjana Ljiljak-Vukajlović

On 15 February 2014, YALS Association of Language Schools of Serbia, organised yet another English language teacher development seminar in its series of joint regular spring events with the British Council. The seminar was held by teacher trainer Nick Bilbrough under the title “Perk up your students’ passion through creative skills development” at the Guarnerius Fine Arts Centre in Belgrade. The seminar included three workshops focusing on new approaches to reviving the classroom by resorting to the teacher and peers not only for scaffolding but also as main resources.

In the first workshop called “Livening Up Listening!” Nick Bilbrough supported the idea of using teacher talk instead of pre-recorded material as listening material, which often proves to be too mechanistic and thus unchallenging for students. He questioned the validity of the omnipresent warning that the teacher talking time should be exceptionally shorter than the student talking time and emphasized that the teacher is often the only actual source of interactive speech. As students give preference to live listening, it is a good idea to use class for more interactive listening, which also offers oportunity for easily adaptable, visually and physically engaging, and taskless activities, while media listening can be assigned for homework.

“In Our Own Write” was the title of the second workshop. As well as scaffolding by the teacher or more capable students is normally used in the speaking process, it can also be effectively exploited in developing writing skills. The trainer demonstrated how short collaborative exchanges as well as longer activities of dialogue notebook type, based on reformulating and eliciting, expose students to a higher level language and encourage them to use it productively. The added motivational value of personalising reinforces the effectiveness of this approach.

The third workshop re-examined the validity of totally excluding repetition from the learning process on account of its monotonous and unchallenging nature. While it is true that mechanical repetition is ineffective as there is nothing for students to hold on and remember, it is also true that carefully designed repetition activities involving mental processing lead to production of more accurate, complex and fluent language. Again the level of personalising and the number of opportunities to repeat utterances about oneself are directly proportional to the success of developing language skills. Nick Bilbrough presented new inventive ways how to avoid the boredom, which included retelling one’s own life stories to different persons, or inducing students to re-live somebody else’s experiences as if they were their own.

Nick Bilbrough’s presentation and practical activities proved to be a real refreshment on the teacher development scene in Serbia as they made a point of returning to humanistic aspects of teacher’s work, where dedication and motivation to share personal experiences provide good cognitive and affective models for language learning. The response of 107 teachers attending the seminar, with less than one year to more than 30 years of work experience was undividely enthusiastic and appreciative and the overall positive feedback included comments such as “wonderful presenter”, “skillful and devoted”, “practical ideas”, “easy to follow”, “excellent tips for writing and listening”, “useful activities”, “useful seminar”, “well organised”, as well as “interesting content”.