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Young Learners Conference 2008 Review

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Young Learner Conference 2008 Review – What we talked about …

Many Young Learner Coordinators and DOSes have recently returned from the Young Learners Conference held this year in the picturesque village of Porto Venere near La Spezia, northern Italy. The fifty participants came from Belarus, The Czech Republic, Dubai, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine and The UK. As always, what the Conference demonstrated was the variety of types of YL teaching going on everyday in IH schools, the rising levels of expertise in specialist areas and therefore the potential for sharing and developing ideas among affiliates. There were workshops and seminars on Very Young Learners (VYLs) to Advanced Teenagers, various CALL projects (Computer Assisted Language Learning), as well as input sessions on child development and learning styles.

Participants spoke positively of the chance given to them by their Directors by sending them to this event. Reasons for attending the Conference vary, but a common response from YL DOSes and their Senior Teachers that I spoke to was the opportunity to share ideas and learn from others who are in similar situations. There are different levels of experience and specialisations among participants, but many commented that they appreciated the chance to get a fresh perspective on problems and challenges in an informal and supportive environment. Others talked of a feeling of pride in being part of a widespread, yet closely-knit organisation: ‘you feel like you’re part of a large family rather than a bunch of Macdonald look-alikes’. Being able to remain in contact with other schools is important. For example, Lana Sushko (IH Kyiv) and Jennifer Hillhouse (IH Moscow) have started an exchange whereby Lana visited IH Moscow to see how the Young Learners and Very Young Learners Departments are run there, and it is hoped Jennifer will be able to see some of the dynamic and creative initiatives of IH Kyiv. Participants often come away with practical, ready-to-use management ideas, and several mentioned various systems (such as termly evaluations and syllabuses) used in other schools that they have implemented to good effect in theirs. And being able to see another IH school and its classrooms, teacher resource rooms, wall displays and materials is also a valuable source of ideas that can be taken home and recycled.

One IH Director stressed the importance of allowing sufficient time for feedback on the Conference to management and teachers once the participant returns, so as to ensure that the many practical ideas that YL DOSes come away with can be implemented or adapted.

According to the participants of this Conference, the numbers of Young Learners certainly seem to be rising in many IH schools. In the current economic down-turn, companies may cut back on their staff language training programmes, and adult students may decide not to re-enrol, but most parents and guardians are prepared to take a longer view of their children’s learning, recognising that English is something they are should not sacrifice. So YL classes can provide more stable income stream. Some schools are noticing an increased demand for VYL, both on- and off-site. The financial implications here are obvious: if a school can provide quality teaching in a secure, welcoming environment for pre-primary aged children, there is a good chance they will stay on at their IH school until they have passed First Certificate – or even beyond!

Naomi Moir, YL Coordinator for IHWO is clear about where the future lies for IH and Young Learner teaching: “YL is clearly an area of growth for many schools and I think the future lies in not only doing it – many do it – but in doing it well. As an organisation we could be exceptional in our standards and really lead the way.” This can be achieved with well-informed and trained YL Coordinators and DOSes working alongside interested and committed YL teachers. The YL Conference is an important factor in the promotion of these principles and is, therefore, an essential event in the IHWO calendar.

The IH Course in Young Learners (IHCYL) is another integral means of helping create and maintain these exceptional standards. Some participants felt this should ideally be a prerequisite for an IH YL teacher. As a course which was written in 2001, it needs to be kept up-to-date, relevant and reflect current trends and progress in the area of YL teaching, so some sessions may need to be rewritten and other sessions added. It is also essential that this course is standardised so that it doesn’t lose its ‘value’. One of the sessions at the Conference led by Naomi was devoted to watching a video of an IHCYL-level lesson for participants to evaluate and come to a consensus as to its relative strengths and weaknesses. All participants found this standardisation exercise very useful, and suggested it could be followed up at the next YL Conference with a session dealing with the organisation of oral and written feedback on IHCYL lessons.

Conference participants discussed various other directions that IH must take in the future if it is to remain competitive and retain quality. Some of these issues were focussed on in the sessions:

As I hope you can see from this very brief ‘taster’, anyone who attends the IHWO YL Conference leaves with a head full of ideas and a suitcase full of materials. It is always an enriching experience which embodies the spirit of IH and offers practical ways of maintaining and enhancing the high quality service we are all aiming for. As soon as I’ve had the chance to unpack and pass on what I’ve learnt, I’ll be looking forward to the next one!

Many thanks to Anna Ingram at IHWO, Lyndy Cronin and her team in IH La Spezia for ensuring the YL Conference remains the most enjoyable event in the IH calendar.

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