Pan-SIG 2014


I just got back from this year’s JALT Pan-SIG Conference in Miyazaki. The Pan-SIG is my favourite conference, and it’s one I try not to miss every year. I think this was my fifth or sixth Pan-SIG.

I love the Pan-SIG because it’s run by the SIGs, and everyone is really into what they are doing. It’s more concentrated than the JALT National Conference, and the overall quality of presentations tends to be higher. The smaller size also makes it a great place to meet and talk to people.

This year’s venue was fantastic. I had never been to Miyazaki before, but was really impressed. A friend said “it feels more like Miami than Japan” and I agree: wide streets, palm trees, low buildings, lots of space, and not at all crowded. The university where the conference was held was downtown, easily accessible, and very comfortable.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend the first day as Miyazaki isn’t the easiest place to get to from Sendai 🙂

The 2014 Pan-SIG tried a couple of new things, and I’ll talk about each one below:

1. Information/sustainability

The organizers didn’t produce any printed material for the conference, instead publishing the program online. I completely support this approach and agree that most conferences are very wasteful in terms of printing a bunch of stuff that no-one ends up keeping or reading afterwards.

However, this time round there were a few gaps that should be addressed in the future (or at other conferences). The online information didn’t seem to be complete or at least wasn’t intuitive enough for me to find. I actually didn’t know about some of the rooms so missed half the poster sessions.

I think even if the conference goes paperless a simple one-page handout with a map and a list of presentations is necessary. It’s also necessary to have signs indicating where things are, and to make sure that the student volunteer staff know the rough schedule and where things are (I asked half a dozen people where the poster sessions were, but none of them understood what I was talking about).

2. Replacing presentations with poster sessions

I am not a fan of this. I think posters and presentations are very different beasts, and much prefer to give or attend presentations. Posters work well if they can be displayed in the lunch room or the publisher area and are a great way to get ideas or see what people are doing.

However, I think we lost something this year by not having presentations. Presentations require more preparation, and tend to provide a deeper understanding of a topic. I hope we’ll see a more balanced approach in the future. I think the model of hanging posters in the morning and leaving them up all day, along with a long lunch break with access to the poster presenters, works well. Simultaneous presentation sessions can then be run before and after.


On the whole, I enjoyed the conference. The first plenary talk about reconstruction in Tohoku was incredible: interesting, accessible, and illuminating. I talked to a lot of friends and met some new ones. The whole thing, with the exception of the information issues above, was extremely smooth and well run.

I’m not sure where the next Pan-SIG will be held, but I’m already looking forward to it.

Another Excellent Talk on Creativity

At the Oxford Day this year, I really enjoyed talking with Goodith White.

During her keynote, she mentioned this speech by Paul Collard, which I then tracked down and found excellent. He has some interesting points on teaching, test scores, and educational systems in Japan and Korea:

Lots of takeaways for language teachers. Some of the standouts for me:

  • teachers need to train students to learn outside of the classroom
  • our students are going to have to make their own jobs
  • students that are pushed to achieve high educational test scores often end up disliking the subject and not pursuing it in the future (English in Japan?)
  • autonomously functioning (self-directed) students do much better at university or in the workforce

What did you think of the speech?


Oxford Day 2013 video, slides, and writeup

I was extremely lucky to be invited to speak at the first Oxford Day in Japan this month.

oxford day workshop

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed the whole thing. 188 teachers attended, and there were nine presentations (five time slots). The venue was a very comfortable meeting space in Shibuya, and the provided coffee and sandwiches were excellent.

Most importantly for me, I had a fantastic group of teachers in my presentation who were very forgiving and asked me a bunch of questions at the end. Here is a copy of my slides in .pdf format and the video of the presentation is below:

131123 Maximising Input (slides in .pdf format)

If you have any questions please let me know in the comments, or send me an email to

Oxford Day 2013

I’m really pleased to be part of Oxford Day 2013, to be held in Tokyo on November 23rd.

oxford day 2013

You can see more information here.

My workshop is from 13:00 to 14:00:

Maximising input through extensive reading and listening resources (Room 2)
Teachers and learners all know that the way to get better at English is to get a lot of input (through extensive reading and listening) and practice (through speaking and writing). The hard part is actually doing that day in, day out. One important factor is whether learners can find content at their level that interests them. This 60-minute workshop will introduce a variety of resources, both online and off, suitable for all levels, as well as how to best introduce them to learners in a way that encourages and motivates.

It really is a great lineup, it’s free, and you even get a complimentary lunch 😉

Register here, and I hope to see you there.

1 Nov 2013, 8:22am
conference Review


JALT National Conference 2013

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the JALT National conference last week, held in Kobe.


I think this was my third JALT national conference, and strangely I think it was also the one I liked the most.

I say strangely because I actually came down with a bad cold on Thursday night, and spent much of my time in Kobe feeling hungover -despite not drinking a drop for the last couple of weeks! It was probably the least social conference performance I have put on for a while, only managing to speak to a few people and skipping all the social events.

The thing about JALT national is that it is so big that there is the potential to have all sorts of different experiences, depending on what you do and which sessions you go to. In the past I have felt the average quality of presentations at the national conference was not as high as the ones at smaller, more specialized conferences (like the Pan-SIG or the ER Seminar). There are also so many things going on (well over 20 simultaneous workshops in most time slots) that paralysis through too much choice is actually a real danger 🙂

So to sum up my experience of this year’s JALT national:

The Good

  • Kobe was great. An attractive, convenient, interesting city.
  • The venue was great too. Easy to get to and suited to purpose.
  • The keynote speeches were great this year. I saw three of them. Interesting and thought-provoking.
  • The cafe at the back of the EME was pretty good, fast and tasty (good iced coffee too).
  • Keith Folse was fantastic. Great speaker, and I’m really glad to have found his textbooks (we’re talking about introducing a writing course at TU). Here’s a video of his keynote in Korea in 2011.
  • The sessions I went to were almost all good.
  • I did manage to meet some new people and talk to some people I hadn’t spoken to for a while.

The Bad

  • Having a bad cold was not fun.
  • My hotel, due to lack of planning on my part, was on a different island to the venue, resulting in a 40-minute, three-train commute each morning. Oops.
  • The venue, while great, consisted of three buildings and it took me until the morning of the second day to get it straight in my head. Memo to self: go in on the Friday evening and figure out the venue.
  • I don’t like paying 2000 yen to rent a projector for my presentation, especially when they belong to JALT and were bought with donations from the SIGs… on top of the not cheap fee to attend the confenrence seems a bit much.
  • I missed a lot of people I had been wanting to talk to.

Things I learned

  • Lots of assumptions I had about bilingualism might not be true. Need to do a lot of reading.
  • Xreading has incredible potential. If they are able to do half of the things they are planning to, we might end up adopting their extensive reading system.
  • The Great Writing series looks incredibly interesting.
  • Communicating with parents may well be the key to a successful English school. Lots to work on.
  • Cambridge English might be okay as private language schools go (I have doubts sometimes) 🙂


Despite worries about the typhoon and how it would affect flights, etc. and that damn cold, this was a very smooth and enjoyable conference. I had a great audience at my workshop and ended up learning several new, pertinent things over the three days of the conference. The organizers and volunteers should all feel very satisfied and proud of themselves.

Anyone else make it to JALT National this year? What good things did I miss?

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