‘Exploring Participatory ESOL’ Conference

10 Oct

On Saturday 11th October, we were joined by around 50 teachers and community organisers from the ESOL world and beyond. The aims of our conference were:

  • to improve attendees’, and our own, understanding of participatory approaches to ESOL
  • to develop further the community of practitioners interested in participatory ESOL
  • to give attendees a taste of the participatory trainings that EFA offers.

The conference participants had travelled from across London, but also from Coventry, Cardiff, Lincoln, Thanet, Brighton and Bristol to attend. By lunchtime, we had planned, written and filmed a collaborative video ‘essay’  introducing what we meant, as a group, by participatory ESOL- and it was apparent that there was a huge amount of knowledge and expertise in the room.

After a delicious lunch provided by local cafe Old Ford Deli, we ran two sessions on ‘building class community’ and ‘creating an action rich classroom’. Every activity that we facilitated at the conference could be replicated in a participatory classroom or meeting, and a ‘tool kit’ outlining some of these activities was also included in the conference handout. Additionally, space was made for questions, discussion and, most importantly, for all participants to share their own experience and learning.

This conference was a big step for EFA London – it was the culmination of a couple of years developing our expertise in training by running internal and external trainings in participatory ESOL, but it was the biggest one-day event we’ve ever run. Participatory approaches are not easy to explain or to understand, and the event challenged us to think carefully about how best we could share our practice with those who attended. But part of the joy of participatory learning is it wasn’t just our responsibility to expound on the subject. Every participant seemed enthusiastic about working collaboratively to explore what participatory education can mean and how it can work in practice. We were inspired by the atmosphere at the conference: participants shared their knowledge, understanding, questions, critical reflections and took part in creating a supportive, productive group for the day. We felt satisfied that we’d achieved our aims and that the day had laid a solid foundation for each participant to go back to their places of work and explore how they could implement participatory approaches out in the ‘real world’. We’ve honed our participatory teaching expertise through ongoing experimentation and reflection and we’d like to be able to engage the wider teacher and organiser community in a similar process of trainings followed by individual experimentation followed by further trainings and reflection.

We ended the day with a participatory evaluation of whether attendees’ personal aims for the day had been met. Aims that still hadn’t been met, or new questions that had arisen during the course of the day were recorded as subjects that we could address in future trainings. These included:

  • How do you apply participatory approaches to low-level learners, mixed groups and small groups?
  • How to negotiate the tension between institutional demands and a participatory approach.

Some participants also asked if EFA could “host / support / facilitate a working network [of participatory ESOL teachers]?”

As well as circulating the contact details of conference attendees in the conference handout, we would also like to use this blog as a place that teachers can post and comment. We would therefore love to hear from any participatory teachers about their experiments with participatory methods in the classrooms. Please email cait@efalondon.org or dermot@efalondon.org with anything you’ve written or comment on other posts up here!

To draw the conference to a close, we explored how attendees felt about their own participation during the day using a speaking wheel (below). For this activity, a large circle is divided up so that each participant gets one segment. Everyone then fill in their segment according to how happy they were with their participation. If they are 100% happy, their segment would be completely full; if they were 0% happy their segment would be empty. Participants can also write an explanation of their segment. All of the segments are then reassembled to create a wheel which shows, at a glance, the satisfaction of all attendees. IMG_0688

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