Although ESL-SPIN is a group of Australian teachers turned publishers, the first ESL-SPIN event took place far away, at the CamTESOL conference in Cambodia, where Sharon Duff and Carmel Davies (Urban Lyrebirds) and Clare Harris (The Book Next Door) represented the network. Here, Carmel talks about her impressions of the trip:
Carmel, the ESL-SPIN team come from around Australia. How did you plan for the event?
We’d been doing a lot of phone discussions, but Sharon, Clare and I decided to meet up and finalise our planning in Siem Reap, in the north west of Cambodia. Of course we didn’t just work – we visited the world heritage temples around Angkor Wat and got a taste for Khmer language and culture before catching the bus to Phnom Penh for the CAMTESOL Conference.
So what did you actually do at CamTESOL?
We presented a poster session on our newly formed ESL-SPIN group. As in Australia, we could see the big publishers were out in full force with hundreds of books for the ELT market.
So what sets us apart? Well, we wanted to let people know that our materials are tailored to the needs of our students and have been developed from our experiences in teaching and the gaps we have seen in available resources. We met a lot of teachers who came to look at our resources and ask about self-publishing.
You also ran workshops. What was the response to the idea of teaching through song?
Amazing! Sharon and I did a workshop each on Teaching Grammar through Song and Teaching Pronunciation through Song. Over a hundred teachers attended the first workshop and word evidently spread, as there were nearly 120 at the second workshop the next day.
People loved the song approach and really appreciated our hands-on activities. A teacher from Malaysia told us she was going to try the activities the very next day with her students back in Malacca. I’ll also mention a email we got recently from the US, saying ‘Just want you to know that you ladies made the CamTESOL conference for me!’
What a lovely response! So who else did you meet?
There were over a thousand teachers there, mainly from SE Asia, and although I obviously didn’t meet them all, I met a lot. In spite of the size, the event was really well organized, with 40 workshops at any one time and all went smoothly and efficiently.
It was particularly inspiring to see so many young Cambodian teachers from rural schools, often without any resources or electricity – but with masses of enthusiasm. Conference delegates had been asked to sponsor a Cambodian teacher, so that meant plenty were able to attend.
We also met teachers from the US and Britain, some working in Cambodia and Thailand, and some working with undocumented people in the US.
What did you learn?
I was surprised at the huge industry that English teaching is in Cambodia, and the many companies and schools involved.
A workshop I found interesting in this context was by a Filipino teacher, who spoke about an education policy for the maintenance of Indigenous languages, where instruction must be in local language for the first 3 years of primary education.
Sharon said that she was impressed by Professor Oxford from the University of Maryland in the USA, who spoke about learner autonomy, motivation, confidence and resilience, while I think Clare was most struck by the very clear, slightly slowed-down, but never condescending, presentation by one of the keynote speakers, which seemed really thoughtful as a model of ‘International English’.
Any other highlights?
The cultural dancing at the event dinner gave us a chance to see dances from rural areas and songs from the pre-Khmer Rouge period. Huge efforts are being made to revive these songs and dances, which were almost wiped out during the Pol Pot period.
After our very rural bus ride to Phnom Penh, we also had the contrast of an eye-opening cyclo tour of the city, where golden palaces sit beside mega high-rise buildings and people sleep at the roundabouts in the shadow of 5-star hotels.
A more personal highlight was on the final day, when a group of young teachers came up to us singing, “Are you busy?” (from Sing With Me book 1). They told us how much they’d loved our workshops and asked for a photo with us, which you can see here.
Would you recommend the conference?
Yes, most definitely. It’s always good to see teaching in different contexts and meet teachers from other countries; there were lots of interesting workshops and opportunities to talk to people and exchange ideas.
CamTESOL was a buzz!