The first of January. A new decade. Outside the sun is shining and the birds trill in the warm Mexican air. Time to swim and sunbathe, perhaps.
Or time to start thinking of new challenges ahead; time to try and get prepared for what is to come. Which for me means, among other things, new talks, new presentations, rows of teacher faces waiting for what – entertainment? Insight? Provocation? Confirmation of their own beliefs? something to argue about? Criticise?
Well that’s for later – the teacher reactions, I mean. First you have to get them into the room to listen to you. No problem for plenary speakers, of course, but much more alarming if you are offering a workshop. Will there be anybody there when you start? Who is speaking at the same time as you? How can you ensure that even despite fierce competition from other more exciting and charismatic presenters your room will be full – or at least not so empty as to make everyone fell uncomfortable and wonder if they should have gone elsewhere.
Last time I worried about this on the blog (you can check it out in my previous posting) I concentrated on the titles we give our talks. Did that have anything to do with it, I asked. Many of you came along and left fantastic and interesting comments. The general consensus seemed to be that (a) many teachers go to listen to a ‘name’ (unless, of course, they have been previously disappointed by hearing her or him), (b) that the title didn’t matter too much – and some people didn’t actually like ‘tricksy’ titles, though others were attracted by ‘clever’ ones (I think there’s a difference!) – but that (c) the abstract really DOES matter; that is, the slightly longer description of what the session is going to be about is the real ‘deal-maker’ (or breaker) when deciding who to go and listen to.
So I thought I’d have a think about writing abstracts. And this is what I have come up with so far: an abstract should give a clear idea of what the session is going to be about, should give some clue as to the type of activities that participants might be involved in, and should be so attractive as to make it impossible for anyone to miss going to the session. Quite a tall order when some conference programmes only allow about 50 words.
(and some conference organisers have strong views about what should go into an abstract; at least 3 people I know have been asked by the 2010 IATEFL conference organisers to re-write their abstracts).
So what I thought I would do is write three different 50-word abstracts for the same talk (about fluency) and ask you which sounds the most interesting, and why. The styles are slightly different (and by the way this isn’t free help I’m asking for! The ‘real’ abstract has already been written….). Anyway, here goes:
ABSTRACT 1: in this workshop the speaker and participants will consider how some students become fluent, even with non-communicative methodologies. They will then discuss different ways of encouraging student fluency, including the use of drama, building the speaking habit, and encouraging the development of an ‘inner voice’. Be prepared to act.
ABSTRACT 2: How come some students achieve fluency and others do not? Does communicative methodology help? But people became fluent after using grammar-translation too! This session looks at what it takes to become fluent in a foreign language – with a little help from Shakespeare’s prince, a footballer and some twitter friends too!
ABSTRACT 3: based on readings, considerations of past and present methodologies, and discussions on Twitter and other professional networking, this workshop will discuss the place of teacher intervention, drama, rehearsal and communicative interaction in the building of our students’ inner voices, because it is perhaps there that true fluency ultimately resides.
Of course it’s possible you wouldn’t come to a talk like this whatever the abstract; but just in case you are a tiny bit tempted, which one sets your pulses racing best?
Or do you have a favourite abstract of your own? One that really got you excited?
(and a happy new year to all!)