CAMTESOL Review and Reflections

I can’t believe it has already been a week since the CAMTESOL conference ended. I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences before they get crowded out by other things like the new semester starting (tomorrow!?!?) and some other presentations in the pipeline. So, instead of worrying about or working on what is coming in the very near future here comes my review of the 9th CAMTESOL Conference.

Short Version:
I loved it. What a great experience. Highly recommended.

Medium Version: 

  • Great conference
  • Well-organized
  • Lots of enthusiasm and passion for learning and developing all around
  • Filled with friendly, approachable, knowledgeable and nice people
    (presenters, organizers,  and delegates alike)
  • Nice presentations with a wide range of topics and  chances to learn about other regions (especially South East Asia)
  • Clear emphasis on the context in a conference (to my eyes at least) that didn’t try to be mini-IATEFL or TESOL-light but tried to be the best CAMTESOL it could be with a clear sense of place and purpose.

Long Version: As follows… highlights included: 

Meeting People

This was surely a major theme of the conference for me. I met so many interesting and nice people from all over. Some, like Andrea Wade and Leslie Cioccas, I’d already had some PLN/Twitter connections with. It was so great to meet them and to participate a bit in their excellent presentation on connecting with teachers from around the world. You can see Andrea’s blog post on their presentation here.

Meeting interesting and thoughtful people started right as I entered the departure point for the Friday morning site visit. A friendly teacher from Malaysia asked who I was and where I was going and we realized we were going on the same trip and I felt like I had a friend for life. I had the same feeling when another trip goer recognized my name and said he liked my blog/writing. This was all within the first 20 minutes of the pre-conference trip! Things continued along the same path and this helped make the conference such a wonderful experience.

Laughs and new friendships, insights and information were a key aspect of the conference for me and this alone made the conference more than worthwhile. I won’t can’t list all the people met because it would take aged and I would probably end up leaving out someone amazing so let me just say again that I met lots of great people and this was a highlight. 

SAMSUNG

With my new friend/mentee/brother.

Site Visit –Regional Teacher Training Center  

photo (6)

On the grounds of the teacher training college

A veteran CAMTESOL attendee told me the site visits were not worth the time and money and that he could have learned more about Cambodian schools touring around Phhhhhnom Penh on a bicycle. I ignored his advice and was very pleased I did.

I thought the tour of the training college was great. I think it was great for me in two main ways. One is because I think this is one of those cases where a picture is really worth a thousand words. Seeing the setting, actual classrooms, and library gave me a lot of insight about teacher education in Cambodia at the moment. The second great thing was that I was able to have a chat with quite a few trainee teachers. My first impression was how inquisitive and eager to learn and develop more. This was a bit of a breath of fresh air for me! I was very happy to meet them and their enthusiasm was contagious.

photo (5)

Studying to be teachers

Organization 

Everything felt very organized and smooth. I knew where I needed to be and when. Everything was laid out clearly. Volunteers were helpful and friendly. Tea times as well as the opening dinner and conference dinner were pleasant affairs that offered chances to meet people and unwind a bit.

Presentations 

I saw lots of interesting and informative presentations. In addition to the aforementioned one by Andrea and Lesley a few others stood out.
(In no particular order)

  1. A Blooming Flower–a good technique for teaching stress to Vietnamese students” was an interesting presentation where I heard how some Vietnamese English teachers help their students deal with word stress in English. The presenters shared some key distinctions between English and Vietnamese and how these can impact students’ use of stress.  They offered a way of thinking about English word stress as more than than just a higher pitch but also longer and louder. I enjoyed their examples and think their ideas would be especially useful for teachers in Vietnam. The presenters were Hoang Thi Nhat Tam and Phan Thi Tra Khuc.
  2. A presentation on habitus by Heather Swenddal  and how it might affect our conscious and unconscious teaching decisions was eye-opening. The title was, “I do that? Exposing teacher habitus for professional learning” and it reminded me in some ways of reflecting in and on action and gave me a lot to think about. The presenter was especially passionate and enthusiastic about the topic which made for an even more interesting presentation.
  3. Tim Knight deserves a special shout out for his (provocatively titled) poster presentation “Restricting students’ creativity to help them write better academic English” and the discussions that stemmed from this.
  4.  I enjoyed hearing about the challenges trainee teachers in Indonesia face from Amalia Lulu Laela and Siti Rodliyah Rojayb in their presentation entitled, “Pre-service teachers’ performance during professional training: some challenges.” It was it was equal parts fascinating, inspiring and disheartening to hear how similar what they reported is to how things are in Korea.
  5.  An extremely memorable and captivating presentation was from current trainees (some of whom I met on the site visit) in “Becoming a state school English teacher in Cambodia: Teacher trainees report on their experiences.” I was very impressed with their candor, humor, confidence and how well they engaged the audience.
photo (4)

Trainee teachers talking about why they want to be teachers
(and their lives in their training course).

Paul Nation’s Plenary 

photo (3)

Paul Nation in his plenary

The title was, “What should every EFL Teacher Know?” Great stuff. Practical, thoughtful, based in theory, seemingly pitched perfectly to the audience in the room. I felt this was everything a plenary could be. Rivaled Thornbury and Canagarajah for the best plenaries I have ever seen. In this excellent plenary Nation detailed what he thinks are the 20 best techniques for EFL as well as the proportions of a well-balanced course (while introducing his 4 strands: meaning-focused input, meaningful-focused output, language focused learning, and fluency development)  There was a lot of food for thought here, especially for course developers and ER ponderers. Kudos!

As an added bonus Dr. Nation briefly mentioned his new books “What should every EFL teacher know?”  and “What should every ESL teacher know?” Please note that the latter is available from free download (with registration) from the good people at Compass Media.

Maybe not so great things

  • My impression was that the majority of the audience (especially the local audience) was mostly interested in “workshoppy” stuff so I think that more (or longer) slots for these in bigger rooms (if possible) might be the way forward.
  • All the presentations (regardless of style or format or topic) were 30 minutes. I think some presenters would have preferred more time for more “workshoppy” things.
    (For the record, as a presenter, I loved the 30 minute thing becuase it forced me to make decisions and helped me relax because I knew I wouldn’t be stuck at the front with nothing to say) 
  • For some reason the first presenter I saw decided that the talk she had proposed was too technical and academic so she did something totally different than what was on the title. I was there because I wanted to hear what she had to say about her title/topic and not because I wanted a general overview of education in her country
    (which just so happens to be the country I currently live in)
  • Some attendees complained that there were too many presentations and too many options crammed into too short a time period. I guess this is always going to happen at a big conference.
  • I didn’t have the nerve to pass along any secret messages from Kevin Stein to Dr. Nation.
    (Not really about the conference itself but still not so great) 

The end…till next time…or next year? 

Please see my reviews of (2012) KOTESOL and JALT and my post on meeting people at conferences with and without Twitter if you are into that sort of thing.
It might be worth noting admitting upfront that I held JALT to much higher standard in terms of wifi than CAMTESOL and probably had higher organizational expectations from KOTESOL. Thanks for reading!

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4 comments

  1. ga

    Enjoyed reading this post, as I was in Cambodia this time last year, and also two of my new colleagues presented there about an action study they did w/UAE students. Also, I just like hear about conferences from the eyes of M.G.

  2. smkelly8

    You captured the conference well. I saw some good presentations and a couple disappointing ones, which I’ll blog about tomorrow. The conference attracted so many international teachers. I met people from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Japan, New Zealand and more.

    When I was sitting in a good presentation, I wanted more time. When I was stuck in a disappointing one, I was glad they were just 30 minutes. I’m glad we got the CDs of some of last year’s presentations because there’s no way I could see all I wanted to.

  3. Pingback: TESOL Arabia 2013 Review | ELT Stew

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