Around The Campfire With ELT Authors: Spring Blog Festival 2014

eLearning Trends

It was all so modern, and yet so primitive.

It was the Spring Blog Festival, 2014.

Occasions: Panel discussions for blogging as an author.
Venue: Virtual Classroom on WizIQ.

I have romantic notions of how technological environments can shape-shift into a modern throwback to ancient story-telling days. I explored this idea last year during a presentation on creativity in technology for the Virtual Round Table Webinars. An insight that came to me then was that ‘technology brings us back to ourselves.’

What I meant was that some technologies encourage creative activities that we might not otherwise try, or even think of trying. Global communicative opportunities, professional development online and chat show style explorations of educational issues are lovely examples of this.


This virtual meeting felt like coming home to myself. It felt like being privy to conversations that only a campfire atmosphere can induce. The honest, clear, intelligent and interesting personal stories shared by our author guests inspired feelings of engagement; that brought me deeper into my own personal love of writing, blogging and engaging the educational community. It was a privilege to attend these author discussion events. Technology allowed it to happen. It was a public event that also allowed for some intimacy. The perception of intimacy lay in the meeting of minds expertly facilitated by Shelly Terrell, our presenter, and the interest of attendees who were eager to glean insights from leaders in our field.

Special thanks to Dr. Nellie Deutsch for coming up with the idea for this Spring Blog initiative, and for her round-the-clock hosting and moderating of the three-day marathon sessions. We are also much obliged to Shelly Terrell who invited our illustrious guests, and who proved to be such a warm, intelligent and engaging chat show hostess. I was very impressed by her natural interviewing skills and charming personality, as she created a wonderful feeling of sharing in the Virtual Classroom.

It was a virtual meeting where attendees from all over the world logged in to listen to stories from some of the leading authors In English language teaching. We were all at our computers watching, listening and typing into the chat box. That was the modern part.

The ‘primitive‘ part was the spirit and intelligent insights imparted, that made us feel the glow of community that story-tellers of the oral tradition would have felt in days gone by.

Throughout the three-day festival we had two sessions with the author panels.

The first panel featured Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, David Deubelbeiss, Chuck Sandy and Luke Meddings. Chuck Sandy couldn’t make it in the end but you can learn more about him here.

Here are the questions asked in the first panel discussion:

Here’s a YouTube recording of the event. Special thanks to Nellie Deutsch for recording and saving this session for us. We’re looking forward to when the new WizIQ recordings will be automatically saved in You Tube friendly formats (mp4)- that will revolutionise what we are doing.


Reviews, Impressions & Quotes

Panel One

Barbara Hoskins Sacomoto

Interesting quote:
“I think it’s very important for teachers to try things that make them feel stupid”

Most memorable blog article:

What’s a PLN anyway?


I wanted to try and give other teachers a voice because they seemed to have so many interesting stories and not many people were listening to them.

Barbara has 37 bloggers writing in her blogging village, many of whom blogged for the first time due to her encouragement. I was particularly interested in her story of how she started out. She stresses the importance of moving out of one’s comfort zone and facing new challenges. Intrepidly seeking out new experiences whilst simultaneously empowering others along the way is something that seems to have naturally evolved with Barbara. You can’t get more authentic than that and this is the kind of success I love to see.

Luke Mennings:

second_Blogging_Author_PanelInteresting quote:

“One of the strengths of blogging as a medium is that it’s a way of starting a conversation”

Most memorable article:

Early Dogme articles for The Guardian and unplugged subversion.


Luke’s first blogging experiences were very alarming as he was faced with onslaughts of unexpected controversy from some angry readers who were not ready for his groundbreaking teaching concepts; from the early days of his ‘teaching unplugged’ movement.

Despite public outcry, Luke persisted and went on to become who he is today.Here is an archive of his early Dogme articles for the Guardian.

Luke’s comments reminded me of an Oscar Wilde quote:

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Oscar Wilde

I find this very inspiring. How many of us persist against public animosity?

It seems that when you have vision and passion, you can summon enough self-belief to wear-down the oppressors of innovative thinking.

David Deubelbeiss:


Interesting quote:

“Teaching language is different from teaching a subject and I think that back-packing teachers really benefit students around the world.”

Most memorable blog article:

In Praise Of Backpacking English Teachers


I love this one because David started by saying he wanted to opt out of the question of ‘blogging highlights & moments’and the reason he gave for opting out was in itself a nugget of wisdom and insight – a cool way to opt out indeed.

David said that “the highlights of blogging are the people”.

He went on to actually talk about an unusual experience, but I won’t spoil your viewing of the video by typing details here.

In nutshell:

The main impression I got from this talk was that to be a writer you’ve got to be a person first.

It’s something I always believe about my favourite bloggers but it’s wonderful to experience the synergy through online video and interaction, and validate one’s impressions.

What I mean is that showing your mere persona to the world is like showing a mask. Barbara, Luke and David all share the attributes of modesty, understanding of human nature and belief in the power of community. They are natural, real and authentic as personalities.

You must watch the videos and learn what it was all about.

Second Author Panel:

The second panel featured Vicki Hollet, Dr. Cheryll Lentz, and Jeremy Harmer.

Here are the questions asked in the second panel discussion.

Here’s a recording of the session on YouTube.

Reviews, Impressions & Quotes

Vicki Hollett:

Vicki_Author_BlogInteresting quote:

“There are a lot of false friends between British and American English.”

Most memorable article:

Putting my foot in my mouth

“I wrote about my experiences with American words with false friends where I’d screwed up and made faux pas. I asked the readers for their examples and they were hilarious – much funnier than mine.”


British versus American English issues fascinate learners and teachers all over the world. I’ve seen so many topics about this posted on Linkedin. Vicki’s blog, experience, videos and lifestyle definitely mark her blog out as the one-stop place to have fun musing all things ‘merican. The way she blends her experiences with pragmatics, socio-linguistics and humour is absolutely unique in ELT.

Dr. Cheryll Lentz:

CherylLentzblogInteresting quote:

“Even though we can tell them what’s wrong, they don’t often see what’s right. So when I started the checklist show and tell, they went aha….”

” It was all about the videos……They just like it to be real – they can feel I’m just a presence in the classroom rather than just a name – that was amazing and I just started doing more videos – it really connects with them”


Cheryll built up a dynamic teaching personality through video, making the driest subjects seem fascinating to her students. As she said herself “APA is like watching paint dry”, yet her students were able to get excited about it. This is the power of personalisation and being there for your students through multi-media as well as in the classroom. I learnt a lot from this.

Jeremy Harmer:

Author_Panel_Jeremy_HarmerInteresting quote:

“That’s why I blog. The ‘aha’ moment. That’s what it’s all about.”

Memorable articles:

Are plenaries gendered?
“Why in teachers’ conferences, frequently the balance between genders is so unequal”?

Teaching Unplugged article

Of all the blog posts I’ve written, that was the biggest, weightiest, massive one I’ve ever done because of all the comments’.


I was particularly interested in Jeremy’s reference to the gender divide. That’s a debate I missed the first time round and would like to see re-ignited. I’d say the the divide could be a practical one in terms of childcare.The fact is that I personally don’t even attend conferences because I have four kids and no extended family to help me. As for plenaries, maybe women are less competitive than men because they are more likely to put their kids before their careers. I’ve also heard and read about tendencies based on evolutionary psychology that are highly controversial. Lastly, there is the disturbing thought that we may be unwittingly ‘programmed’ to perpetuate the divide ourselves – not knowing why we do what we do. (Nick Michelioudakis)

..Or in this case – not knowing why we don’t do what we don’t do.

In a nutshell:

I like to be mentally challenged, and this conversation brought up many issues that had me wanting to start commenting on those old, memorable blogs the writers were referring to.

I was also reminded of some things I’ve come across in a book I’m reading by Daniel Goleman.

Regarding Dogme, teaching unplugged and the resistance Luke faced from the ELT community, and regarding the gender divide; there’s an interesting psychological phenomenon that may explain barriers to innovation and cultural revolution.

It’s the phenomenon of shared blindspots called ‘group think’.

“The unstated need to protect a treasured opinion drives shared blindspots that lead to bad decisions” ~ Daniel Goleman – FOCUS

It seems that ‘disconfirming data’ is seen as threatening to the status quo and subconsciously buried by mutual consent. Thereby the collective reality is filtered through a comforting blind spot that will never challenge one’s conscience. If a challenge does arise, you can act self-righteously in all good conscience – a win/win solution for group think cliques.

Is there a Group Think Blind Spot in ELT?


Finally special thanks to the organisers, guests and especially the audience and course participants, without whom none of this would have been possible.

My next article will feature all of the amazing presenters who came together to present amazing webinars for the Spring Blog Festival 2014.

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.