IDEA conference, Paris

odeonAll in all I can say that I am glad that I went to the conference even though not everything was quite as I had hoped for. It was my first time at an IDEA conference but let’s just say that I wasn’t so impressed by some of the keynotes and the round tables – a few were interesting and inspiring, but others… but maybe that was a matter of personal taste. Nevertheless, I was and still am quite frustrated that so many interesting workshops and paper presentations were squeezed into half-day programme slots, which meant that there were at least three interesting things going on at the same time during the afternoons, whereas the aforementioned keynotes and round tables were the only events in the mornings with no competition on the schedule – why? (Actually, I can imagine why but anyway…)The other frustrating thing: logistics. Getting from one conference venue to the other took some getting used to (ok, here I got better over time) but finding the right room at Université Paris VII… This building must have been the dream of a sadistic architect… 10 staircases? Hello? A building divided in to A-E sections that can only be reached by the right staircase? Maybe this was all a big psychological experiment or the set for an absurd comedy and I just didn’t notice. Anyway. On to the interesting things.

Looking back it seems that the PhD Day was almost the most rewarding day of all – paper presentations by researchers who were actually interested in the same things as I am and keynotes that were not boring and introduced new concepts. Can’t ask for more, can I? So I learned for instance about Michelle Raquel’s research on full-scale productions as environments for L2-learning, about Raphaelle Beecroft’s project to use improvisation in secondary EFL classrooms, about how Anne-Laure Dubrac used excerpts from Twelve Angry Men in a language class with law students. There was more – reaching from research on primary English learners in Hong Kong to adult learners in Switzerland and it was great to see that language teaching through drama seems to be a popular research area right now. I probably still missed a number of interesting presentations but at least I had the impression of a profitable day.

And then, in the evening, there was the opening ceremony, but I’d rather forget about that. I’m aware that it is important to have public advocacy for drama but maybe I’d have skipped the speeches if I’d realised how long 3 hours in a hot theatre can be… Anyhow, on the positive side, I will probably experience more empathy for my audiences from now on 😉

Tuesday I went to the plenary events in the morning, marvelled at the plushy interior of the Odeon Theatre and almost missed the first session of the afternoon because the morning event took longer and I still had to figure out how to get from one place to the other. And then I couldn’t find the workshop I had signed up for… The next day I learned that it had been cancelled. Oh well. I went and listened to a paper-session instead (which , due to technical problems was only just starting, as I walked in, 20 minutes late) which was not exactly my area (environmental and community education) but better than no programme at all. The second slot was the one reserved for special interest groups (parallel with workshops but this day the ones that interested me had already been full by the time I watned to sign up) and, apparently for the first time, there was a SIG on drama in language teaching. High hopes – meeting people who are interested in the same things as I am! And while the participants and moderators were definitely nice and interesting people and we shared some warm-up activities (which is never a bad thing), I had hoped for something more structured. Maybe that’s just my German mind-set? The SIG met also on the following 3 days and I am really in two minds about it. I guess I was hoping for more discussion about teaching and research questions and while we talked a little about this now and then, I would have wished for more discussion or a long-term view and a little less activity-sharing. But maybe the majority of participants was happy with the SIG as it was.

Wednesday? Alain Berthoz’ keynote lecture on neuroscience and theatre was sure interesting but very densely packed with information… Okay, I’m probably never satisfied – but something in the middle between this and the sometimes a bit superficial round-table presentations would have been great. In the afternoon a workshop on playbuilding and devising by Anne Wessels and Mia Perry – for someone like me who didn’t have a clue about it I think was a good introduction to the topic. Even though there are probably other practioners who would define the two terms differently. After that, again the SIG – see above.

Thursday:It had been proudly announced that for the first time there would be a round table devoted to languages in theatre. But for those who expected anything constructive about language teaching and theatre, it must have been a bit disappointing. There was a lot about translating plays and “hybridisation” – as it had also said in the programme – but in fact there was only one presentation that was actually concerned with teaching languages through drama.

Afternoon: First time slot I listened to a number of paper presentations – one that helped me understand better some of the activity done in the SIG the day before and how their nonverbal focus could still be connected to language learning. Another that seemed very helpful for thinking about teacher education and drama, as it presented a classification of different drama activities and their benefits for language learning as well as a model trying to define what makes drama drama, as opposed to mere role-play for instance (does that make sense? For me it does.) The third paper was about CLIL and drama and their similarities.

Next a workshop on “the Power of the School Production” by a group of Australian drama teachers. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and if it would be useful for me, as I’m not an actual drama teacher but it was nice to pick up some ideas how to keep big groups busy and coordinated in rehearsal. I left a bit early – but only because I didn’t want to miss the SIG completely (which was at the same time) and actually this time there was a discussion in small groups about our interests and concerns… I had missed a reader’s theatre activity but I’m glad I was there for the last half hour.

Friday: The first workshop was about networked theatre productions which I was interested in because… I guess it could be great to do something like this with partner universities. But maybe this is a topic I have to research on my own. The activities we did I might use for warm-up sessions (position yourself on a global map, do a statue of what “home” means, make an iPhone movie…) but all in all it was probably more helpful for actual drama teachers at secondary level. The second workshop was about “timetravellers sharing a Shakespearean moment” and (even though, again, I left early because of parallel events – sory to all facilitators, I did not leave because I didn’t like your workshops but only because there was so much else going on..) it gave me some good inspiration for my holiday workshop scheduled for August. The last SIG session (again I missed half of it) was devoted to a personality test that teachers could do with their learners in order to know about the learning styles they probably favour, which resulted in four colour-coded personality-types… I’m not totally sure about this but it was interesting to see and discuss. Finally, we took a look at a process drama activity which was really good as I have very little experience with this type of drama in education and still find it a little hard to imagine it only reading about it. Okay – that was a week with a full schedule, compressed into 2 pages of print. I didn’t go to any of the evening performances because I was just too tired in the… After all, I can go to the theatre when I’m at home, can’t I? It would certainly have been inspiring to see some actual theatre but it was just too much. You could easily have filled three weeks with the IDEA 2013 programme – but then who has time to attend a three-week conference? And now it wil be three years to the next conference and who knows on which continent it is going to take place. It is likely that I won’t have the chance to go there, so all in all I am glad I attended this one.