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Frank Prescott: Don’t Be Afraid of Experiments

The 2nd part of an Interview with Frank Prescott  by Martina Bednáriková

One of the secrets to become a great teacher is to never be Frankafraid to move.  If you do not lose sight of your purpose and embrace that it is not about you, you will definitely gain the best results. Our ELT Forum speaker Frank Prescott has definitely learnt to weather the storms in his classes. Will you follow his lead?

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Your workshop “The Write Stuff” aims at providing various writing activities to engage and motivate students more. What is your own attitude to writing? What do you like about teaching academic writing?

Frank Prescott (FP): I have a feeling that writing is sometimes neglected in the language classroom and I think that’s a shame because it’s such an important skill. I think that writing tends to lose out to speaking when it comes to production. When writing is done, the activities may not actually involve much writing for writing’s sake but rather just as a means of completing the task, and often the feedback on writing focuses much more on accuracy rather than on the content or organisation of the writing. I want to show that a well-designed writing task can be a highly engaging activity in the classroom, which can involve the use of the other skills as well as plenty of interaction, and so it can be fitted very well into a balanced communicative syllabus.

Perhaps part of the problem with writing is that it tends to be seen as something that’s difficult for both the learner and the teacher to do well. Actually writing can be great fun if it’s handled in the right way. It can allow students to experiment with the language and express their own thoughts and feelings about topics that they are interested in. It can be used to encourage creativity and can also involve a lot of cooperation. As I already mentioned, writing can be combined very well with the other skills so that it can be part of a whole skills approach. Of course, writing and reading have always gone together, but nowadays, with multi-media tools it’s easy to bring in listening as a stimulus for writing, and writing can be used as a way into oral activities of different kinds.

I spend a lot of time working with students doing presentations about different topics and here writing is also very important. In fact, one of the key uses of writing is in preparing for a speech or presentation. There’s no reason why this kind of activity can’t be done in the classroom at many levels. Group presentations can work very well and can be combined with fieldwork or individual work online and in the library followed by group preparation. Here writing is not the main focus but it is a necessary skill in organising the material of a presentation. Obviously, poster presentations also require some writing skills and again students of all levels find them enjoyable.

Nowadays, writing is arguably a more important skill than it’s ever been thanks to the advent of digital media. Our students are now writing all the time on social media and they will also need to be able to write effectively in many different online situations in their future. As language teachers, we have an obligation to help our students use their English for these purposes, as well, and to help them understand the differences between styles and functions. Being able to write well in English is particularly important in this regard because it is the most widespread online language.

When it comes to academic writing, many of my students find it difficult to get used to writing essays because they have not had much writing practice in school, either in English or in their first language. Even if they have had some experience writing short “compositions”, they often don’t know how to organise a piece of writing effectively. It’s a challenging job to help them adapt to a completely new set of requirements and in many cases they have to begin by learning how to write a simple paragraph and then build from there. Progress can sometimes be slow but it can also be very rewarding to see students making progress and becoming more confident in expressing their own ideas about the things they are learning. Particularly in my media classes, I very much enjoy reading the short essays that more experienced students write in which they are able to explore issues and present their own arguments about different topics.

For me, the ability to successfully communicate an idea based on well-informed supporting information and using clear, well-organised written language is a very important skill. It’s my job to help students acquire this skill, or to help them develop and improve it, and I think if they can do this in writing, they will also be able to speak more effectively.

Frank with ELT colleaguesSCET: Can you tell us more about your PhD experience? What was your thesis about? How did you like being a student again?

FP: It will not come as a great surprise that my thesis was about writing. To be more precise, it was a qualitative study of 20 first-year students learning how to write at university, and it grew out of my own questions about the difficulties my first-year academic skills students were obviously experiencing with their writing. The chance to work with students closely by observing them and interviewing them over the entire course of their first year was fascinating, and I learnt a great deal that I was able to feed back into my own teaching. However, the work involved in collecting, processing and analysing the data was immense – it took several years to complete.
Ironically, perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process was actually writing the thesis. Again, this experience of struggling to organise my thinking about the research results and communicate it clearly in writing while working to an ever more rapidly approaching deadline, also helped me to get a deeper understanding of some of my own students’ difficulties.

As for the experience of being a student again myself, I only really felt this strongly during the obligatory and elective courses at the beginning of the PhD. For these we had to do a lot of reading and then we would discuss it in class. We would also write a paper or do a presentation for each course. It was while I was doing some of these courses that I felt how good it was to be in a classroom as a student again, sharing ideas and engaging in discussion with other students about some fascinating topics. It also gave us the chance to share our worries and wonder about our sanity in trying to do a PhD at all – the kind of shared despair that comes so naturally to students in the education system at many levels. The actual writing of the thesis, though, was quite a lonely experience and much more difficult than anything I remember from my earlier days as an undergraduate. It was a far remove from the sociality of the classroom.

SCET: How does an average day of Frank Prescott look like? Where do you get energy and motivation for all that you are doing?

FP: My average day very much depends on what time of the year it is, but one thing is constant, I always get up early, and I like to start my day by walking my son to school during term time. There are only two semesters at the university, and during these my day is generally divided between preparing classes, teaching classes, and catching up with marking. At the end of each semester there are usually so many essays to mark, theses to read and reports to write that life becomes quite hectic, but most of the time it’s just busy. And of course there’s alway IATEFl-Hungary stuff to do and sometimes I have other little jobs, like proofreading or the odd private student. During the semester I work in my office at university because it’s convenient and not far from where I live, but in the summer I work more from home. I am almost always the last one up at night because I’m a night owl and I find it impossible to go to bed early unless I’m absolutely exhausted. Generally, this only happens towards the end of each semester for reasons already mentioned.

Getting energy and motivation is not usually a problem for me, although I have my “downs” occasionally, just like everyone else. What keeps me motivated is my enjoyment of teaching, of trying to do things a little better each time and experimenting with new ideas and new techniques. I think that the age we’re living in now, despite the great challenges that we face for our society and our future, is a very exciting one for teaching. The technology that we now have access to in the classroom, technology that the students themselves often bring with them, enables us to do things that previous generations of teachers could not even dream of. And precisely because of the problems that face us and our children, our job as teachers is much more than just to help our students acquire another language. We can give our learners the opportunity to see themselves in new ways and start to think about how to shape their own future. We are lucky because we can bring so many different ideas and topics into our classrooms whereas other teachers are more limited, and it’s much easier to do that than it used to be. And this way, at least for me, teaching remains an exciting and rewarding activity.

Having a wide variety of interests outside teaching is also a way of helping me maintain motivation and energy. As well as spending time with my family, I enjoy watching and sometimes even doing various sports. I am passionate about anything to do with films and film-making, and I also love the theatre, especially Shakespeare. I’m an amateur ornithologist and photographer, and in odd moments I like to work on improving my Hungarian, which I have been learning now off and on for many years (I’m not quite sure if this is exactly what the phrase “lifelong learning” is supposed to mean). All this helps me to relax and recharge my batteries, but a lot of it also feeds back into what I do in the classroom, which I guess is the same for all teachers.

Frank Prescott has lived in Hungary for the last 19 years, teaching first in private language schools and then as a lecturer in a large university in the capital. He spends most of his time teaching academic writing, applied linguistics and English in the media to undergraduates. He’s just finished a PhD in language pedagogy and for the past three years has been on the organising committee of IATEFL-Hungary.


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Marta Bujakowska: Never Tire of Challenges

Our school environments are like landscapes of possibilities and suggestions. Each child is, Marta 1therefore, capable, creative and intelligent. Our ELT Forum speaker Marta Bujakowska thinks of teaching as supporting the learners’ qualities and challenging them in appropriate ways, because our students need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, eyes and ears.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): As a freelance teacher and teacher trainer, you are doing many different things. Which of all the positions you hold is your favourite?

Marta Bujakowska (MB): I like equally all the things I do. After I left a school where I’d taught for seven years, I started missing teenagers so much that I found a way to fulfill my desire, and now I teach international teenagers in a summer language school for a couple of weeks every summer. Nowadays I think I like working with teachers most. I can share my experience and learn some new things from them and look at teaching with fresh eyes.

SCET: Tell us more about your studies in the USA. In what way has the US environment influenced your teaching practice?

MB: The School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont is a very special school. It is truly International with a capital I. Learner Autonomy has interested me for a very long time, and I found out that it is very closely connected with Reflective Teaching, which I learned more about at SIT in Brattleboro. The program there was a very natural next step in my professional development. It was definitely not a revolution but rather taking a next step in a very harmonious and balanced way. Because the school is very and truly international it opened my eyes much wider and helped me see beyond Great Britain, the US, and other English-speaking countries. It helped me better appreciate other countries with their beautiful and rich cultures. I started learning there how international the English language has become. This view helps me with my everyday work and my voluntary work for IATEFL Poland.

SCET: What are the positive aspects of working as an English teacher in a totally different culture, and why would you recommend any teacher go and teach abroad?

MB: As I mentioned before and as we all know, travelling broadens the mind. MartaI would go a little further and say: travelling is the best teacher of life. Of course, there are some conditions like culture shock that can be difficult challenges, but they also enable us to learn new things and appreciate our own culture.

More generally, I think that teachers who have an opportunity to work in a different culture feel less lonely. They see that many teachers share the same or similar challenges and sharing experiences with them is something that can really enrich every teacher’s professional life.

SCET: You travel a lot while teaching. Which country did you like the most as an EFL teacher? What was the most memorable experience you’ve had while teaching abroad – the one that has made a long-lasting impact on you?

This is a very difficult question to answer. I will try to explain why. Wherever I go to teach, train, or present I love being there at the moment. I feel enchanted by the people and new places. I want to learn so much and understand many aspects of life in a given country that I never have time to compare where I am with other places. It would take me a long time to list all the things I have learned in each place I have visited and I wouldn’t like to miss any; so, perhaps one day I will write a book about my experience.

SCET: How would you define yourself as an educator?

MB: This is even more difficult because I am not good at defining myself.  🙂 I’ll try to explain that. My father has told me many times that teaching runs in my veins, and now I understand what he means. After high school I didn’t want to become a teacher; I was rather thinking of Polish literature and theatrical studies. However, after I hadn’t got a place at university, I graduated from Tourism Service College. In the meantime, I’d spent a couple of months in London and attended language school there. I fell in love with English and then I started thinking of teaching it.

I have always felt in the right place since. There was one incident in my life when I suddenly felt I was losing balance. It was when I was running my own language school and started to be involved in administrative work more and more which left me not enough time to teach. It scared me so much that I decided to stop running the school and started working completely freelance. However, I always cooperate with other teachers and schools. When I think about myself as an educator I cannot possibly separate that from who I am as a person. I don’t have two lives: one private and the other professional. It’s one self-contained whole. I am never tired of teaching and the same applies to my private life. I am married and we have five grown-up children and two grand-children. I love their company!

SCET: What do you do to develop your own teaching skills, and where do you get new ideas for your own teaching?

MB: I learn from my students through a reflection process through which I find out what helps or hinders their learning. I learn a lot from other teachers or student-teachers whom I supervise every winter. They are all so resourceful. Sometimes I attend conferences or workshops where I exchange experiences with my colleagues. I read professional magazines like Voices, Humanising Language Teaching, ELGazzette or IATELF PL Newsletters and Bulletins, and also Newsletters of our partner organizations. But, to be honest, I always learn more directly from people.

SCET: Based on your teaching experience, how do you see the future of English teachers in Central Europe?

Marta 3MB: I can see the change coming. What I think is that we need to make this change even faster. There are many wonderful educational places and great English teachers around who are active and think of a learner first, not forgetting about the learning matter or themselves. In many places however, especially in the public sector at all levels, there still exists this anachronistic way of looking at learning and learners where teachers think they have all the knowledge and power over their students.

Sometimes I hear or see things that really upset me.  Yesterday in a school I visited, a boy of maybe 7 or 8 asked a teacher: “Excuse me sir, I didn’t understand what we need to do now.” The teacher replied: “I have already told you. You should have listened more carefully”. It really hurts, it breaks my heart… We need to think deeply and change our style, approach, understanding… Once we understand that teaching is subordinate to learning everything becomes easier. Learners will learn anyway, of course, but why not help them, stand by, and assist in the process. Life is so much nicer then.

We talk a lot about technology replacing teachers. Can you really imagine that? I can’t. Of course, we need to accept technology and incorporate it in our teaching, make friends with it even though we feel a little isolated or even illiterate at times. Our students are great teachers. Why not use their skills to help us learn new things?

SCET: Tell us more about your involvement with IATEFL Poland. What duties does it include and what do you like about it? Are there any challenges in your job?

MB: Officially I have been with IATEFL POLAND since 1994. Before I could attend the first conference, I took part in many workshops organized by Ela Jarosz in Kraków on behalf of IATEFL Poland, where I took my first steps as a teacher and learner. At my first conference in Kielce in 1994, we decided to form a new region and a teacher was appointed to be in charge of it. Then she went abroad and asked me if I could do her job. I did. I was involved in YL SIG and AL SIG for many years simultaneously. However, when I became president, I thought it would be too much and I didn’t feel comfortable holding two positions at the same time. Therefore, I asked a colleague to take over the post of Regional Representative. She has been successfully running the region since. I didn’t last as president till the end of my term due to poor health, and we had an acting president then. I had a short break from being an active member, but a couple of years ago, I attended another conference in Warsaw and was elected a Liaison Officer. Now I am in my second term. My job is to start up and maintain good relations with IATEFL partner associations. I look for new partners, talk to them, negotiate and sign agreements, and sometimes receive rejection for many different reasons. Then, I keep in touch with our partners, inviting them or reminding them about our conference. I also deal with exchange of materials and look after the delegates once they attend our event. At the moment we collaborate with 22 partners, and I always hope to host many of their representatives at our annual conference. Our members are also entitled to represent us at our partners’ events. When they decide to apply for a grant, I also deal with it and guide them through the procedure. I feel very much at home doing this job even though I am sure I make mistakes. I treat it as yet another process of learning.

Challenges! Yes, there are some challenges that I am trying to overcome with the help pf my martaco-IATEFLers. They need to remind me of deadlines for submitting documents like reports or settling the bills. This is an administrative part which I mentioned before that I need to learn.  I find it really challenging. My post necessitates contacting people. Even now in the technology era, I strongly believe in face-to-face contact. It is invaluable. Very often I “know” someone through the internet but it makes a big difference when I finally meet that person face to face. That is why I travel a lot and some people, who do not quite understand the character of my work, may feel a little envious. Travelling looks very attractive, and I find it very attractive myself including many adventures I have had on the road. Some are funny or a little dangerous, but they have a happy ending. I always meet nice, friendly people who help me.

Because I believe that teachers should feel their self-development is insatiable and that they should support one another in searching for new challenges, I follow this path myself through IATEFL Poland.

Marta Bujakowska is a freelance teacher and teacher trainer from Poland with a strong intercultural focus. She holds a TEFLA Certificate from International House, studied English at Silesian University in Poland and obtained her MA in Teaching from SIT in Vermont, USA. In her career she has taught all ages and levels. Nowadays she works with teachers, teenagers and adult learners of English. Marta has been with IATEFL POLAND since 1994. At present she holds the position of Liaison Officer who starts up and maintains good relations with IATEFL partner associations. She believes that teachers should feel their self-development is insatiable.

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Federico Espinosa: Show and Do Not Tell

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

Federico Espinosa, ELTForum 2014 presenter, knows that it is important not only to succeed Federicobut also to fail, although it is definitely not easy. Learning to manage failure is actually the hardest part of our profession, because in teaching every moment matters, every day.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Tell us how you got involved in teaching. Have you always wanted to teach? What do you like about it? Is there anything you dislike?

Federico Espinosa (FE): I started my teaching career working with the US Peace Corps in West Africa. I originally trained as a chemist and worked as a chemistry teacher – but because I was teaching in a French speaking country, I was also asked to teach English. I found language education much more enjoyable than science education and I never looked back.

After Peace Corps, I got my CELTA in New York City, then moved to France where I worked as an English language assistant at a high school for one year, then as a university lecturer for two more years. In both these jobs I got lots of experience teaching students with a variety of levels, interests, and needs. I also gained valuable experience in materials development as many of my classes were based on authentic materials rather than coursebook exercises.

Currently I teach for AKCENT International House in Prague. My work for IH includes young learners, business English, Cambridge exam preparation in addition to the usual general English classes. I have been tangentially involved with teacher training over the years and I look forward to working in it full-time in the near future.

General English at Rennert in New YorkSCET: What are your main teaching cornerstones? What do you believe in as a teacher?

FE: Effective learning evidences great teaching, and this is impossible without the creation of an appropriate learning environment. It has been my long-held belief that so much of what drives a lesson – particularly a language lesson – is the possibility of comfortable and engaging exchanges between the participants. For a student to learn well, they must have the motivation to learn; not only the overall long-term motivation of “English is useful, so I want to learn it” but also the motivation of “this particular task is interesting to me and I want to discover more about it”. This then charges the teacher with creating lessons focused around the needs and interests of the students so that exchanges are meaningful and personalized rather than arbitrarily chosen by a course book syllabus. This is the idea that drives my talk on need analyses, focusing on identifying student needs and adapting a course to suit these, adapting continually over the course.

This is where reflective practice comes into play. The final element of good teaching is being able to take a step back after a lesson and think about what worked, what didn’t work, why, and how to change future lessons. Involving students in this with continual feedback and suggestions gives the teacher a very legitimate external perspective on the course, and gives students the feeling that they have some control over their class and their own learning. This sense of participation in course planning ultimately positively impacts learner autonomy and motivation. It is their class, after all.

SCET: You travel a lot while teaching. Which country did you like the most as an EFL teacher, and what was the most memorable experience you’ve had while teaching abroad – the one that has made a long-lasting impact on you?

FE: I have worked in the United States, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, France and the Czech Republic. These have all been very different experiences and teaching contexts, and it is difficult to narrow it down to one superlative.

Teaching in GuineaThe award for most international and culturally interesting would have to go to New York due to the mixed-nationality classrooms I taught in, and the benefit of being able to have open discussion across 6 or 7 nationalities about how perceptions of various topics can differ; excellent and genuine exchanges of information.
West Africa takes the most personally enriching award, having given me the experience of working in classrooms with no electricity, no running water, more students than desks, and chalkboards made of painted cardboard. Teaching classes of 70+ students at a time in these conditions, especially when teaching chemistry, taught me a lot of about the importance of teacher resourcefulness and using what you have available to you. West Africa also takes the award for being a memorable introduction to teacher training, as experienced Peace Corps Volunteers train new PCVs in the middle and the end of their service.

France by contrast takes the plethora of resources award. Never have I taught in an environment that places so much value on education and provides so many benefits to teachers. I mean, the vacation time alone….. Le sigh. France also taught me a lot about materials development and course design due to the responsibility I was given at the university.

Lastly, the Czech Republic has been memorable and interesting as the first time working full time for a private language school. Professional development is taken much more seriously here at International House than anywhere else I have worked, and the opportunities for both teacher development and teacher-training opportunities have been very rewarding.

SCET: Let’s move on to your personal learning style. Has your own learning style or strategies changed in any way over the years?

FE: In 2012 I began a distance MA in TEFL/TESL and started delving deeply for the first time into theories of second language acquisition, teaching methodologies, lexis, pedagogical grammar, syllabus design and so on. The aim of this all is to develop the approaches and methods I use with my students in my class, but a side effect has been introspective analysis of how I best learn a language and what it is that makes me a “good language learner”.  As I learn Czech now, and looking back at the ways I approached learning other languages such as French, Susu, Chinese, Hebrew and Arabic (I like looking at the structure of non-western languages), I can see things from a more complex perspective. When I make up my own flashcard sets I now aim to have meaningful context in them, when I listen to conversations on the metro I make note of structures and phrases rather than just isolated words, and when speaking I pay closer attention to what I say and how I say it. One drawback is that this knowledge seems to have made me more averse to spontaneously having a go at speaking when I don’t feel I have mastered a certain language point due to a fear of acquiring fossilized errors. Overall, I think it has helped inform both my learning and my teaching.

SCET: Do you remember your first presentation? What helped you overcome nervousness back then? Has the preparation for your presentations changed in any way with your experience?

tesol greece 2014FE: My first presentations were back in my days as a chemistry, presenting my research progress every so often at weekly lab meetings. These were short and to the point with a small group of colleagues. My undergraduate research thesis involved a full presentation of my research open to the entire university, but the only non-chemistry students in the lecture hall were my friends who were only there for moral support anyway, sharing none of my interest in intramolecular hydrogen bonds raising the pKa of my synthetic targets.

This experience from another field was helpful when I began teaching, and also when I began presenting at conferences. My first ELT presentation was at TESOL France Toulouse in 2011, presenting on ways of teaching modal verbs for a lesson plan swap shop. I remember being extremely nervous at the prospect of presenting in front of so many of my peers when I only had a couple of years of experience. The talk was well received, however, and I realized that even among experienced peers, new ideas are still new ideas and most everybody who attends these conferences comes in with an open mind. Over the years that followed I have given many other presentations, which has made me more comfortable with the idea, and better able to anticipate what the participants will expect. This knowledge makes preparing for talks less stressful, as I now leave myself the flexibility to adapt during the talk based on participant numbers and questions.

SCET: What makes you get up in the morning and where do you get energy for all that you do?

FE: I have worked with many British people over my last few years here in Europe, and as a result my habits, routines and even language has shifted a bit. Due to this my energy comes in the purest of forms:  Black tea, no sugar, a bit of milk.

Business English at Rennert in New YorkFederico Espinosa has been an English teacher since 2008, having taught in a variety of contexts from sub-Saharan African secondary schools to New York City Language Schools, French Universities and most recently at AKCENT International House in Prague. He has been actively involved in ELT conferences in Europe for the last four years, having served on the TESOL France Executive Committee as the founding regional coordinator of TESOL France Bordeaux, and spoken at TESOL France and TESOL Greece. When not teaching Federico plays the horn with the Orchestr Univerzity Karlovy v Praze and rides his bike around Prague.

FRIDAY 16:30-17:30 in DUBLIN



Frank Prescott: Making Students Think

An Interview with Frank Prescott  by Martina Bednarikova – Part 1

Frank Prescott (who is presenting on the ELT Forum conference June 7th) knows that the functionfrank_mountains of education is to teach two essential things: to think intensively and to think critically. So, the best thing you can do as a teacher is develop your students’ passion for learning. If you do, they will never cease to grow.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Tell us the story behind your life in Hungary. How did you come to move there? And have you always wanted to teach?

Frank Prescott (FP): The story of my life in Hungary is too long to tell here, but I’ll give you the basic facts. I moved to Budapest in November 1995 and I’ve been here ever since. Now I live in Transylvania as well in the summer and at Christmas – that’s where my wife comes from. I moved here because I wanted to try living abroad and Hungary seemed like an interesting place, quite different from the UK but with a very attractive culture and a fantastic capital city. Now I feel very at home here.

Teaching English made it possible for me to survive when I first arrived in Budapest – a typical native speaker story – but I hadn’t always wanted to be a teacher. Like a lot of young people who go to university, for a long time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I tried several things before I decided to do a post-graduate  teacher-training course in Edinburgh, and it was while I was doing that that I did a supplementary TESOL course, but actually I learned how to teach EFL on the job, so to speak. At first I was very raw: I remember learning about the Present Perfect the night before I had to teach it in an early morning class. I was a classic “one chapter ahead of the students” type of teacher. You could say that I “fell” into teaching and I never managed to get out again, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now, and there’s nothing else I really want to do, apart from maybe writing, but that’s mostly about teaching, too.

SCET: You have been working as a university lecturer. What do you like about your job and why? Is there anything you dislike? When it comes to preparation, how long does it take you to get ready for a lesson?

FP: I was lucky enough to get a job at one of Hungary’s most prestigious universities through my flatmate at the time, who was already working there and told me there was an opening. I’m very happy I did because it’s at the university that I’ve really found my forte as a teacher. I love working with groups of young people who are setting out on an exciting new stage of their life, one that often sees them taking big steps intellectually and discovering what they are really interested in. I also enjoy helping them learn the discipline of organising their ideas in high level writing, and beyond that, I like helping them in the process of adjusting to life in the new academic factory, a very different kind of academic factory from the one they have come from at school.

One thing I really don’t like at university is giving lectures because in a lecture there’s generally only one person talking and there’s not much interaction with the students, but mercifully I have to give very few lectures. Nowadays, I really don’t see the need to give lectures in person at all – they could be given much more effectively and comfortably as online talks (that’s what the so-called MOOCs usually are). The classroom is the place that I like to be: that’s where all the exciting stuff happens. The interaction, unpredictability and sheer fun of the classroom life of a good group is what makes teaching so rewarding and it should be at the centre of education, not just language learning. When it works well, the dynamics of classroom life cannot be reproduced satisfactorily online.

When it comes to preparing for classes, it’s very hard to say exactly how long it takes because it’s an ongoing process. Of course, in courses that I’ve taught before it’s much easier, but I’m always looking to improve my materials and to keep everything as up-to-date as I can. I keep a notebook with me all the time when I’m teaching – I call it my Memory Book – and I jot down important notes about each class, but very often good ideas come to me for the next class in a course when I’m actually in the current class, and I like to write them down straight away (I use a little image of a shining lightbulb to indicate a new idea). I find that my best thinking for the next class is often done right after the previous class. Generally, I can say that thinking about how to make my classes productive is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a teacher for me. I like to “borrow” things from colleagues as well, and of course, the students themselves are important resources in lots of ways. It’s always good to ask them for their ideas, too.

SCET: You have been a member of IATEFL Hungary organizing committee for the past 3 years. What duties and responsibilities do you have? What do you like about organizing such a huge event?

FP: My main responsibility when it DR.FRANK1comes to organising the conference is to take care of the individual speakers, but we are all involved in lots of other smaller and larger tasks both before and during the conference. For instance, two years ago I was the MC for all the announcements over the three days because the guy who was supposed to be doing it dropped out at the last moment, and last year I found myself in charge of the student helpers, which was great fun.

Apart from the conference, I have many different hats which I wear at different times, some of which fit me better than others. I am the coordinator of the Culture and Literature Special Interest Group, which I enjoy very much, but I am also responsible for being the “All SIGs coordinator”, a job which I think I’m not so proficient in, but which I ended up being responsible for because there was nobody else to do it. In small voluntary organisations like teaching associations that sort of thing is likely to happen – everybody has to step up to do things they never reckoned on doing sometimes. Of course, being a native speaker I’m often called on to do proofreading and I also wrote the editorial for the last issue of our magazine. Another key area
that I’m involved in is working with our
Regional Branches. For the past two years we’ve being trying to promote more activity outside the capital. It’s difficult and the progress is slow but I think it’s very important for a teaching organisation to try and reach teachers all over the country. I hope to be able to devote more time to this aspect of my work over the summer.

Basically time is our biggest problem – there’s never enough of it. The work of a committee is perpetual and there’s always more to do, but it can be very rewarding to work with other motivated people and to meet teachers at home and abroad as well as famous professionals. Of course, the annual conference is very exciting and it’s a great feeling when you see another conference come together, but it’s only a small part of what we do, and organising other events and speaking to teachers who don’t know us and persuading them to become part of the organisation is perhaps what I find most enjoyable about working for IATEFL-Hungary.

More from Frank soon…watch this space!

Frank Prescott has lived in Hungary for the last 19 years, teaching first in private language schools and then as a lecturer in a large university in the capital. He spends most of his time teaching academic writing, applied linguistics and English in the media to undergraduates. He’s just finished a PhD in language pedagogy and for the past three years has been on the organising committee of IATEFL-Hungary.

SATURDAY 13:15-14:15 in CANBERRA



David Fisher: Touching Lives with Theatre

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

As a teacher, you do not have to stay within the lines of the usual. David Fisher, a professional actor and an ELT Forum presenter this June, knows what he’s talking about. Make use of everything to enhance yourDavid Fisher students’ learning process – discover and rediscover gestures, sounds, and words… because when learners are able to break through those initial language difficulties, they can find expression of what’s really on their minds.


Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Let’s start with how you got to the Czech Republic. Can you share the story behind your life there?

David Fisher (DF): I first moved to Prague after I finished university in Scotland in February 1990. I had been studying philosophy so I wasn’t on a career path. The idea was to travel a bit and try teaching to see how I liked it (both my parents were teachers.) I liked it very much indeed and stayed in Prague teaching in language schools and later translating too. I hadn’t specifically targeted Prague, I had a general goal of getting a job in Eastern Europe or Spain. The first concrete offer came from Prague and I have been there ever since.

SCET: You are a professional actor – have you always wanted to become one? What do you like about being on stage? On the other hand, are there any drawbacks to your job?

DF: I never intended to become a professional actor either. It is a classic case of a hobby becoming a job. I never went to acting school, it actually took a long time before I had the courage to actually say ‘I am an actor’. But the fact is that if you do anything long enough and you have any kind of natural ability for it, you will eventually become quite good.

However, in my heart I am still very much an English teacher more than an actor. I value teaching above acting as a profession, although I love acting in evening theatre as a hobby. The theatre I run, ‘The Bear Educational Theatre’ specialises in using theatre to help students learn. I find this a lot more worthwhile than ‘just’ being an actor playing in evening theatre or films.

The drawbacks to being a professional actor are never having job security, always going to castings and hoping somebody else likes you. Then your influence on the show you are in is limited, you can easily end up in terrible projects just because you need the work. Finally I get very frustrated by long rehearsal processes. I always think there is so much more I could be doing with my time. That is why I am not just an actor.

SCET: Out of all the movie projects and theatre performances you have played in, which one is your favourite and why? Which one is your least favourite?

DF: Linking to the answer above, I find our educational shows the most satisfying to play in. Educational theatre will never have the respect and prestige that top evening theatres have, but doing it well is much more of an art. Creating a magical atmosphere in a theatre with professional lighting, music, sets all kept in the same place is easy. We try to do it at 8.30 a.m. in a school canteen with a group of e.g. 14 year olds, in a foreign language, using the contents of two suitcases. When that works, as it usually does, it feels like a real achievement.

However, I have also been very lucky to play in big Hollywood films and in professional Shakespeare productions in theatres. Stand out memories from these are the film ‘A Knight’s Tale’ where I had scenes with Heath Ledger, and another film where I got to play (very briefly indeed) with Anthony Hopkins. In the theatre the highlight was playing the big part of Kent in King Lear in Houston Texas, with only two days to prepare! My least favourite experience was on a student film. Nobody knew what they were doing, it took a long time, and the end result was terrible.

SCET: As a founder and director of the Bear Educational Theatre, you specialise in performing educational shows in the bear theaterEnglish in various schools. What is the story behind the concept of uniting theatre and education? How did you get to this idea and when did it first occur to you?

DF: Theatre in Education is very widespread in England and although I had never done it or even seen it before I started here, the basic idea was always close to me as a teacher who liked theatre as a hobby. To be honest, in the beginning I produced educational shows as a hobby so that I could practice my skills as a then amateur actor. Since then though I have just kept going and going because the project has been so worthwhile. I could talk for a long time about the benefits of drama in education and it is one of my goals in life now to bring more drama or ‘physicality’ into classrooms.

SCET: In what way can drama in general improve one‘s English language skills? Apart from motivating them, how can students of English benefit from attending your performances?

DF: Drama should be a central part of learning a language because in real life words are just one part of a communication process that is mostly physical. I like to use the example that when people talk on the phone they gesticulate, grimace, walk around … Why? The other person can’t see them? The fact is that moving and various forms of physicality are natural in the process of creating language.

It is unfortunate that in our classrooms language becomes a passive theoretical subject as we try to prepare students to get through written exams. A lot of the talking that takes places is just from talking heads and that is a shame. I think that movement, gestures, making faces are natural to the process of making language and can only help the learning process.

Our performances are short (one hour on average) and so the impact on an individual’s life is of course limited, but the main benefits are… motivation. The shows are fun, students enjoy them and so leave a show feeling good about English as a subject and about their own ability to understand the language. On top of that, we teach certain specific points of grammar or ‘maturita’ topics through our shows. Teaching like this, through a theatre show, makes the subject matter more memorable for students and makes life easier for teachers when they come to teach the points again in the classroom.

SCET: Where do you find inspiration for the plays? Since the first idea until the very first premiere, what does the process of the whole performance creation look like?

DF: It is difficult to say. We have several detective based shows as they are always popular. I have always been a big fan of Agatha Christie. Now we also have a number of shows on maturita topics. Generally, I try to think of what may be interesting or useful for a specific age group.

As for the writing process, I usually have a basic idea for a story and then maybe a number of games or jokes that I want to work into the show. Then when the mood is ready (or the deadline) I just start writing. For example, years ago I had the idea that there could be aliens who make specific grammar mistakes and the students have to recognise which characters are aliens by recognising the grammar mistakes. I thought this was a really good idea for a show, but I didn’t actually write the show (The Alien Grammar Show) until about two years later. By that time I think I had consciously or subconsciously gathered a lot more material that filled out the final script.

When writing, I write a first version of the script pretty much as quickly as possible. I don’t worry at all if it is good or not or if there are gaps that I need to fill in. It is the first version, nobody is going to see it. Then after a while I will look at it again and start the process of changing it and filling in the missing bits. My feeling is that seeing the problems in something that isn’t very good, but which exists, is a lot easier to than trying to create something perfect out of nothing.

SCET: What have you learned from your experience as an actor?David

DF: Acting isn’t as difficult people think it is. It is a lot about just being confident and comfortable on stage with people watching you. Also, it is a great skill to learn, especially for students, as it helps you feel confident in many other life situations too.

SCET: What motivates you to keep going during hard times?

DF: I believe very much in the intrinsic value of the theatre. I look at what we are doing and I always think to myself how The Bear Educational Theatre is simply a fantastic project and how lucky I am to be making my living doing something like this.

I used to have fantasies that one day, if I learned to manage the theatre really well, it could make a lot of money. That thought really helped me in the hard times. I now know that it isn’t true; the theatre is being managed well (not just by me, I should add) and there still isn’t much money left over. Theatres are just like that.


David Fisher is the founder and director of The Bear Educational Theatre, Prague. He has lived and worked in The Czech Republic since 1990. His theatre specialises in performing educational shows in English, directly in schools The aim is to entertain, but more importantly to motivate students in their English studies. David is also a professional actor and has played in several cinema and TV films including Dune, Joan of Arc and A Knight’s Tale.

SATURDAY 13:15-14:15 in SYDNEY


Alexandra Chistyakova: Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

An interview by Martina Bednarikova

Creativity becomes more visible when adults try to be more attentive to the cognitive process alex of children than to the results they achieve in fields of doing and understanding. And that is why the best teachers are those who are curious, persistent, and independent, with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play. Alexandra Chistyakova, ELT Forum 2014 presenter, proves that a child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what they have experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions they have acquired. Therefore let them play!

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Alexandra, tell us about your own beginnings as a student of English. What helped you master English grammar? And what do you do in order to keep improving your English now as an English teacher?

Alexandra Chistyakova (AC): Well, my “beginnings as a student of English” wasn’t really interesting; in fact, it was rather long, dreary and inefficient. Frankly speaking, there wasn’t any language learning happening in my English classes neither at school nor at my first university. So, by the end of my fourth year of university, I was a mere false beginner of English with rather scanty knowledge of vocabulary and almost no grammar. Needless to say, I read in English with great difficulty and couldn’t speak English at all. However, that was the year when I realised that I was sick and tired of not knowing English and that I wanted to master English and to be able to communicate in it freely. This burning desire brought me to the faculty of foreign languages of Moscow State University. And it was only there that I actually started learning English. That’s why when I started really learning English, I was already a motivated young adult who was consciously learning the language and really enjoying the process. Thus, there was nothing about the English language that was too difficult for me to master, not even grammar, which, in fact, I found very easy and logical.

As for improving me English skills now, I should say that teaching it, surfing the Internet and reading in English helps me a lot. Also, I would like to emphasize the huge role my international connections with other educators from around the world play in developing and improving my English.

SCET: In your presentation you are going to talk about teaching English grammar to kids in a creative and engaging way. Can you tell us more about your younger students? Do you have any secret key that helps you capture their attention? Has your approach to them changed since you started teaching?

AC: Naturally, my teaching has changed over the years. Given the fact that I didn’t have any pedagogical training, I had to learn how to teach all by myself and by actual teaching. I think this helped me a lot to stay open-minded and be willing to experiment with various techniques and ideas and to be ready to change and improve my teaching. However, when I started teaching kids, I absolutely didn’t know how to do it. They only way of teaching I knew at that time was the way I was taught at my university. That’s why I started by teaching kids as I would teach adults. But very soon I realized that this method was not going to work. And the understanding that kids should be taught differently made me look for some solutions and methods which would be efficient in young learners classroom. Over the years of teaching kids, I have come to conclusion that there is no any super secret key to teaching kids; what is really needed is a teacher’s good rapport with them. I believe a teacher’s sincere, open-hearted attitude and genuine interest in kids and their little joys and regrets is the most important thing about teaching young learners.

SCET: You teach a large range of learners: from preschoolers to senior adults. In your experience, what age group and level is more challenging to teach and why? Which age group do you find it more difficult to prepare for?

SashaAC: I wouldn’t be speaking here about the “difficulty” of teaching any age group or level. If you have a considerable experience in teaching various types of learners, you won’t find teaching them difficult. However, I would say that teaching kids or teenagers might be more challenging than teaching adults because it is much more time and energy consuming. But if one is ready for this and is really looking forward to socializing with these little restless and playful creatures, one will find teaching them truly rewarding, joyful and fun.

SCET: Tell us more about your CELTA experience. What did you enjoy the most about it, and what were the challenges? Would you recommend it to teachers who are just starting their career?

AC: My CELTA experience was one of the most exciting experiences ever. There was nothing I didn’t like about it. Quite the opposite: it was all joy and fun for me. Yes, we had to do lot of work, we had to do a lot of reading and writing. Yes, we were struggling to meet the deadlines and to be improving all the time, but all in all, we were enjoying the great company of other fellow-trainees, the fantastic tutors and the friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Besides all of this, the CELTA course gave me a lot in terms of reflecting on, analysing and summarizing my teaching experience. Also, CELTA helped me to identify my weaknesses and to start consciously working on them. I would definitely recommend CELTA to anyone who is considering taking it and especially to those who are only embarking on their teaching career.

SCET: Let’s move on to drama and storytelling and their inclusion in teaching English. Where do you see the benefit of these activities? Can all teachers use them, or does one need a special acting talent in order to teach in such a way?

AC: I believe that drama and storytelling have the great potential of bringing variety and fun into the lesson. That is why these techniques can be used in any learning environment and in any classroom: whether we are teaching kids or adults. The extent to which you can exploit drama and storytelling depends on how your particular learners react to them. Naturally, you won’t be using these activities with adults as much as you would with kids. But you never know! Your adult learners might enjoy these activities so much that they would ask you to do them more often. As for acting skills needed to do these activities, I don’t think that teachers have any problems with them because I strongly believe all teachers are excellent actors and can manage these activities easily! So all you need to succeed in doing drama and storytelling in your class is to enjoy them yourself!

SCET: Apart from any activity connected to teaching, what do you like alex 2doing in your free time?

AC: I’m really fond of astronomy. And though night-time sky observations don’t match very nicely with my day-time teaching, I would really love to devote more time to astronomy and astronomical observations. In the meantime, I try to keep track of the latest and the most interesting celestial events and to keep my Facebook friends informed (or maybe even pestered with J ) about some of them.

Alexandra Chistyakova is an EFL teacher at Moscow State University, Russia. She also works as a freelance tutor giving one-to-one English lessons to the range of learners, from preschoolers to senior adults. She received her CELTA at BKC-ih, Moscow, in 2011. Her professional interests include professional development, classroom management techniques, teaching English to young and very young learners, and integrating technology in the classroom. She strongly believes that teachers can greatly benefit from becoming active members of international ELT community through taking part in ELT conferences and webinars, and getting together with other educators to share their ideas and practices.




Barbi Bujtás: In Love with Teaching

An interview by Martina Bednarikova

Are you used to following the textbook? Barbi Bujtás, one of the ELT Forum speakers, Barbidefinitely isn’t. Some people may say what she does is sometimes a wee bit insane, but she often follows her students instead of any textbook. She knows that what happens as a result is actually teaching and real learning… because it is not the way things have always been done, but the way things work.


Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Please share your story with us: how did you become an English teacher, and what do you like most about teaching?

Barbi Bujtás (BB): I never wanted to be a teacher, it was an accident. My early plan ‘A’ was to become a fine artist, later a guitarist. EFL teacher was my plan ‘F’ or ‘X’.

English was the only subject I was good at (without much effort) at secondary school, so I had a B2 language exam, and a friend asked me if I could teach him. I said yes, why not, it must be quite simple. No, it wasn’t. I had to face the fact that not everyone has the same learning style as I do, I saw a profession in front of me to be trained for. This made my college years especially joyful and meaningful. unlike some of my peers, I knew why I was there and what I wanted to know.

I chose the nearest college, where I got infected with humanistic pedagogy, to put the learners and their needs first, and during my teaching practice weeks I had the most wonderful mentor-teacher I’m grateful to forever.

And I’m lucky it all turned out like this, I’m in love with teaching English, the best part is perhaps the feeling that I’ll never know everything about how to do it, it’s a series of an eternal number of challenges. It also gives me the opportunity to get rather close to my students, I can often see the beyond their facade and I’m witness to their growth in many respects, not only their foreign language development. It feels like I have a garden with various kinds of plans with various needs and preferences, each growing differently, I can contribute to their growth, but mostly I am the admirer of this beauty.

Barbie's classesSCET: You work as a freelance teacher. Teaching in various teaching contexts, could you compare the advantages of each of them from the teacher’s perspective? Which age group and level is your favourite and why?

BB: I couldn’t choose an age group or a level.  I love teaching adults because I don’t have to carry around all those teddy bears and stuff. No, just kidding 🙂 You know, I work in the small town of Balatonfüred, a tiny but varied market. One year there are many teens seeking exam training,  sometimes struggling kids who need extra help, there are waves of students who are leaving the for English speaking countries. Currently I have many young and very young learners, and there are my in-company lessons with the very best, super-intelligent and hyper-fun adult learners you can imagine … I can’t choose a favourite field or age group.

What I love about this is variety, of course. And it gives me an insight into what happens till someone’s English ripens. When I teach two-year-olds I can see what skills they will need when they are teens, also it makes it easy for me to deal with secondary groups if I know they used to be cutie pie kindergartners a couple of years ago. I have the chance to get deep insight into it and challenges.

I have another job I adore, I write light exercises based on authentic stories found online. These are offered to learners by a language exam firm for free. Besides this they provide immense assistance to learn English and German. This model (free online materials, transparency, the promotion of learner autonomy and finally charging for the exam) especially appeals to me, I believe your learning is yours. And this is my favourite hobby. Don’t tell anyone, I’d gladly do it for free. Oh no, actually now I’m a constant hunt for more jobs where I could sell a sort of product or idea, rather than my time.

SCET: One of your areas of interest is teaching unplugged. Can you please tell us more about this “unplugged“ approach? How did you find out about it?

BB: I started college in 1997. In 1998 I felt I was a teacher, so I embarked on teaching one to one. By my graduation (2000) I was quite fed up with certain mainstream coursebook series. They seemed so awkwardly irrelevant to my students’ lives and I also developed an allergy to Seumas McSporran (a character of one of the coursebooks). When asked my students real-life questions like ‘How are you?’ or ‘What’s happening?’, I wasn’t sure what to do with the language points they wanted to use in their answer but hadn’t learned yet. (I had no idea of the term emergent language.) I felt frustrated and bitterly stuck in a rut.

Later I worked in a primary school, using nice coursebooks with contents alien to Hungarian kids. Their favourite dish was NOT fish and chips or hot dog, they liked fried cheese and Wiener schnitzel. These were NOT in the book.

I was desperate, the whole thing started to feel clumsy. I kept searching the internet for relevant materials, then I found articles on methodology, this is how I found Scott Thurnbury’s legendary article  A Dogma for EFL. That was partly a relief, partly a source of further frustration, I had no idea who Scott was, I thought perhaps some weirdo teacher  unable to keep rules. (No, that was me. :)))

Over a decade later I met Luke Meddings in Kosice, then I had the chance to be a participant of the very first SOLE Devon Unplugged Course with you in Barnstaple, those 10 days with Luke and Mark Andrews gave me the license to fell free to abandon certain irrelevant aspects of traditional ELT practices.

SCET: What are the aims of teaching unplugged? What does this style of teaching involve and what are its advantages? Is there anything you do differently as an unplugged teacher?

BB: Now this will be very subjective. As a one to one teacher often working with struggling students catch up with their English classes at school (to improve grades), I often see that overburdening teachers by public schools often results in their burnout or near-burnout, then they are not always aware of what and why they are doing, they follow the coursebooks and make sure they produce enough grades, they often test grammar, vocabulary and writing exclusively. Learners learn the rules, do written grammar drills (without meaning) and hardly ever speak. Sometimes they rote learn a paragraph, that’s all. I don’t sense any link to the English language as a means of communication that has anything to do with them as humans. No wonder I keep  in mind the three main principles unplugged teaching (a.k.a. DOGME):  for me a good lesson is conversation-driven, materials light (true that I use a lot of technology and authentic things I find online, mainly as some inspiring stimulus), such a lesson focuses on emergent language, language that comes up naturally in the course of the conversation.

So I always leave space for spontaneous and current things, I love to use what is in the air, and I feel it does work.

BarbieSCET: Your presentation is going to be about using magic tricks in the EFL classroom with young learners. Do you have any personal magic tricks that keep you going outside of the classroom?

Yes. You know, there is no such thing as magic. Tricks use the phenomenon that our brain is susceptible to illusion. We see only the part of the trick that the magician manipulates us to see. We don’t pay attention to certain (seemingly unimportant, otherwise crucial) details.

Actually what keeps me going outside the classroom is what I see inside the classroom (and everywhere): people. I tend to see only the good parts that create the illusion of good people. My friend keeps saying I see only the better side of people. Which is true. And I interact with their better side, so I (hope) I make them use and improve that better side, finally their better side grows like a muscle, and I end up being surrounded with better and better people. This sounds quite glittery-rainbow-flower-power-pony-pegasus-unicorn, but this is it. I can focus on certain parts of life and let myself be tricked and I enjoy it.

SCET: Being an active blogger, can you tell us more about your blogs? When did you start writing and why? Where do you get ideas for your posts and how and when do you usually write best?

BB: I have more than enough blogs, I am the messy type, I start a new blog for each new project but write quite rarely. (I wish I had a slightly less tight schedule and I could write a reflective blog.)

It was Marisa Constantinides who launched my blogging ‘career’ in 2010. I tried to cram my criticism of certain education related issues into 140-character tweets, she drew my attention to the fact that those tweets are incomprehensible and somewhat negative and suggested that I start a blog.

I did so. Later that year Ken Wilson came to the IATEFL hungary conference. We didn’t meet in person, yet somehow he spotted my blog and very generously offered me the opportunity to write a guest post on his own blog! After a couple of heart and panic attacks of all kinds and intensities, I wrote something. It was published and since then I have been a grateful and quite stuck up blogger who actually doesn’t write too much, khmmm…

I can write easily though either when something I see infuriates or moves me. Then it’s easy and fast, a relief.  Otherwise, I admit, I am a timid blogger struggling with my other self (monkey brain) who is whispering ‘You can’t even write, you’re a NNEST (non-native speaker), how dare you, …’, but 40% of the time this one is beaten.


Barbara Bujtás is a freelance EFL teacher with 15 years of experience in the beautifulBarbi town of Balatonfüred, Hungary. Her teaching context is the most colorful caleidoscope you can imagine, ranging from in-company courses to teaching two-year olds. She believes in engagement as the key to learning. She is an avid user of ICT, a believer of DOGME and online professional development (a.k.a. the virtual staffroom). She belongs to iTDi. Cats are her enemies and cheese is her best friend. You can find her online: http://barbyorama.wordpress.com/author/barbyorama/; https://www.facebook.com/BarbisClasses; http://rbie.blogspot.hu/