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June 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Lessons Learned through Writing Feedback

Christopher Walker is a teacher and teacher trainer at International House Bielsko-Biala. He is interested in teacher development, and in helping his students grow as English-language writers. As well as teaching, Christopher is also a published writer, with a series of books available on Amazon. Email:


A brief summary of the talk

My talk was entitled ‘Lessons Learned From Writing Feedback,’ and was the first talk I’ve given that was based on any kind of research or practical experiment. During the summer of 2020 I put out a call on social media, saying that I would mark exam writing for free, in exchange for being given permission to make videos explaining the marking process. I ended up making over twenty such videos, and in this talk I presented my main findings, and how they relate to the way in which we teach exam writing skills.

Cambridge breaks down the marking for writing in the B2 First, C1 Advanced, and C2 Proficiency exams into four categories. The first, Content, assesses how well the task is handled, and on average this was the area where candidates performed the best. In my recommendation, however, I suggest that teachers still need to do more to help their students find the three principle content points in each task.

The next two areas, Communicative Achievement and Organisation, were more varied in terms of candidate performance, though the average grade here was still a Pass. In Communicative Achievement, I recommend that teachers spend more time focusing on idea development - candidates are good at introducing their ideas, but often stop short of developing them fully. In Organisation, I suggested that candidates are over-reliant on ‘explicit’ linking devices like Firstly, Secondly, After that… and need instead to be more aware of ‘subtle’ devices like relative clauses and effective pronoun use.

Finally, there is the Language component, and this is where most candidates struggled. Control, as always, is a major issue, but so too is the tendency of many to use synonyms carelessly. If the task requires you to write about ‘young people,’ they should be referred to as ‘young people’ and not ‘children’, ‘teens’, ‘youths’, ‘adolescents’ and so on all in the same text.


How you felt before the conference

My first conference speaking event was in early 2019, at the IH Torun Teacher Training Day of that year. The Bielsko conference was my twelfth. I still feel nervous as the day approaches, but any anxiety I might suffer from is balanced by the knowledge that I have been through all of this before - and, more importantly, that the audience is likely to be helpful and supportive rather than antagonistic or distracted. After all, they have a choice of whether to attend or not, and I do not necessarily need to win anyone over. My only other concern has to do with timing. I am notoriously bad - at school as elsewhere - at gauging how long something will take; I am also bad at rehearsing authentically. So when I prepared my 30-minute talk I was unsure as to how long it would last - it felt like it could be anything from 20 to 50 minutes.


What your feelings were during the talk itself

The talk itself is something of a blur. I remember checking my watch a few times as I progressed from point to point to make sure I hadn’t over-run. It is still disconcerting to speak to a blank void - with my presentation on full screen, and with the Zoom window effectively minimised, there was a worry that all of the participants had left, or that none of them could hear me, or that my presentation had disappeared from their screens. All I could do though was to continue to the end and see if there were any questions - these would be evidence of whether or not my audience had managed to hear me or not, though of course if they hadn’t it would have been too late to do much about it.


Post-conference reflections

I enjoyed giving this talk in a way that I feel is substantially different from many of the other presentations I have given in the past. At the SCELT conference in Bratislava last year I gave a presentation about how the industry needs to ensure support for teachers with dyslexia; I chose the topic because the overarching theme of the conference was dyslexia and learning differences. But the talk was mostly based on other people’s ideas, and had involved a lot of background reading. It wasn’t really mine. This talk felt different, as it was based on the work I had done myself, and I think that is key to how I want to do things in the future. I only want to talk about those aspects of teaching that I have first-hand experience with.

This has two knock-on effects: firstly, it represents a subtle paradigm shift for my own teaching. I feel like I will go into each of my lessons now with one eye open to potential research directions. This is a new kind of attentiveness for me, and after more than a decade in the classroom it feels fresh and exciting. The other effect is certainly that I have a renewed appetite for speaking at conferences, be they online or off. I am definitely not suffering from webinar fatigue, though I am aware of the existence of this unfortunate condition.


Please check the The Art and Skills of the Humanistic Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Voices 
  • On Organising an Online Teaching Conference: Reflections on the First International House Bielsko-Biała Online Teacher Training Day
    Christopher Walker, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Interactive Activities for Young Learners
    Alexandra Tieanu-Koppandi, Romania

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Freer Speaking Activities
    Glenn Standish, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Hybrid Learning – Challenges and Benefits
    Prem Sourek, Italy

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: How COVID-19 Influenced My Teaching Beliefs
    Chris Bain, Czech Republic

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Senses Working Overtime
    Lisa Phillips, Italy

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Lessons Learned through Writing Feedback
    Christopher Walker, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: How I Became Mr Lazy
    Richard Lacy, Hong Kong

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Exciting Experiments, or How to Interweave Science into Language Teaching
    Aleksandra Zaparucha, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: Common Teaching Mistakes
    Elzbieta Chudoba, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: The Vulnerable Teacher
    Zuzanna Szatanik, Poland

  • Reflections on Presenting at an Online Conference: My Journey
    Doris Nneka Egwu, Italy