Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Grateful for Nile TESOL 2020

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I’m so grateful I was invited as a speaker at Nile TESOL 2020, an annual conference that takes place on our AUC New Cairo campus. I have attended this conference on and off for years and it is an amazingly huge conference (over 3,000 participants) with people who teach English from all over Egypt, basically. I was the only Egyptian plenary speaker and it was such an honor, especially since I actually don’t teach English!! I mean, I *have*, just not recently.

So the invitation was to give a 1h45m workshop, a plenary speech of around 45 mins, and be part of a colloquium at the end.

The workshop was a crazy experience that I am so grateful for. I watched another invited speaker attempt (quite successfully) to engage 150+ people in a workshop about creativity. He did loads of pair activities and pauses. It was tough though.

My workshop was about kinesthetic learning activities. I knew coming into this that it was not for every teacher, though I bet most students (who don’t have disabilities) would like some of this every now and then. The title was Walking & Talking: Using Kinesthetic Activities to Encourage Classroom Discussion. My slides don’t tell that much, but here they are anyway. I made the background for the slides (I do this regularly now) and I like it! A bit busy coz I don’t have the best eye for computer graphics.

http://bit.ly/BaliKinesthetic

Obviously some people really enjoyed it and some left early (it was a 3-4.45pm session. I’m sure many were tired, had other commitments, or got bored or tired of it).

But the point is, I learned a lot because

  • I managed to do an interactive workshop for 100+ participants. That is amazing, man. But I mainly did it by taking samples of people to demonstrate
  • I managed to have some personal interactions with folks as they trickled in which really matters to me
  • I made good use of a time when many ppl were in the room but time to start had not come. I did one of my activities early (Treasure Hunt) and I am sure folks appreciated getting candy, biscuits, juice and chocolate at 3pm when many were probably working towards an energy slump. But as teachers, they felt this would not work well in school to reward kids with sugar. I get it! I get it! My kids gets rewarded M&Ms in school and she HATES chocolate so she’s always giving it away.
  • Early on, I encouraged folks to raise concerns over the potential benefit of kinesthetic learning activities and they brought up the issue of instructions. I actually have not gotten great at giving clear instructions yet!! It does waste time and confuse some students!
  • I had many shy participants who did not want to volunteer for any activity unfortunately. It’s possible they enjoyed watching. I don’t know. I should have done more pair activities though
  • I tried to rearrange the room but folks kept bringing chairs back to facing front and then I gave up to be honest!!!!
  • It was important to keep asking how useful the activity might be in their context. I learned a lot
  • The Kiva discussion towards the end was really useful in many ways and I think I will try Kiva in class soon inshallah to ensure everyone speaks and no one dominates discussion.

The next day, I had my plenary at 2pm and colloquium with 3 other speakers at 3pm. I decided to not attend other sessions thar day except the general assembly that took place just before mine. Needed to conserve energy!!!

So my keynote experience was amazing. I wish I could have taken notes during! It was not my first time doing an audience choose-your-path presentation or interactive keynote but it was the first time I do it with like 3,000 audience members. I used Answer Garden at start and finish to give everyone a voice in how they understood learner agency and challenges to nurturing it. I felt that since the topic was learner agency, I should give them agency over the keynote. This approach made me chunk the keynote into small pieces. Images to reflect on, quotes to discuss, and activities I do in class. Then I gave each of these a name and folks could raise their hand to make a choice. Within each choice, I would go to the slide, talk a bit around it (unless it was image reflection, in which case I asked questions). And most of it was discussion. Of course there were moments of silence where no one wanted to talk. One of the things that helped me a LOT was that I had met one of the student ushers the day before (she helped me set up the treasure hunt in my workshop) and I knew her name so she helped with getting mic to folks to speak more than usual coz I could ask her by name. I hope she didn’t mind. I think I also asked her a question at some point. I hope she didn’t mind :)) From the discussion, I actually got some ideas for my class!! Because I shared a story of failure where I tried something to encourage agency that backfired and someone in audience suggested I scaffold for students the scheduling of their work so they can manage their time better next time! Btw. Three great things about interactive keynotes

  1. You get to pause and take a sip of water while other ppl talk
  2. You don’t have to prepare a sequential keynote necessarily
  3. You can stop when time is up even if you haven’t gone through all slides and just give ppl the link to your slides to look at on their own later
  4. You learn yourself as you listen to other folks respond to your prompts. Oh that’s 4 things haha

Here are those slides. You cannot go through them linearly once you reach the “take agency” part and the slide with all the links.

http://bit.ly/BaliTESOL

After the plenary speech, I had 15 minutes (during which I managed to drink an energy shot concoction of carrot juice, ginger and… something else, can’t remember what I had bought).

[Side note: the Nile TESOL participants are so interesting in that they ask you to sign these certificates for them. It feels like you’re a celeb signing autographs. It’s funny but also really flattering]

The colloquium was really nicely organized. The moderator and facilitator had sent us speakers 4 broad questions in advance and asked us to choose which we wanted to speak to, and after answering those, they distributed papers for audience questions, and curated these and chose among them. Many needed time to answer well. Others worked well for the group of us on the stage. I enjoyed it and was less tired than I expected. I actually used the time when folks were writing their questions to leave the room and call my kid who was just getting home from school, and I helped the ushers take papers back to the moderator on stage. At some point in the discussion I invited folks in the audience to offer answers to the questions being asked as well.

My favorite moment, honestly, was this morning coming into work and the security guard at the entrance of our corridor [we have security where my office is because we are in the library building but not the library itself, and I think it’s to protect the books] called to me and told me he was so proud of me and enjoyed me on stage the day before. Now, I actually don’t know how much he understood from what I said. I assume he has some rudimentary understanding of English, and I had some images. So it’s possible he actually understood a lot. I don’t know. And I had a really cool conversation with him and another person sitting beside him who works in the cafe…. about teaching English to AUC workers, which I used to do as a volunteer undergrad at AUC. I need to follow up on that, because we had revived the program and made it part of a community-based learning linguistics course at AUC, but now apparently they stopped doing it or something? I’ll check.

I gotta go now. Here’s a photo

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