An Interview with Marjorie Rosenberg, IATEFL BESIG Coordinator

Marjorie Rosenberg

Marjorie Rosenberg

Marjorie and I met two years ago, at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in Paris. What impressed me about her was her enthusiasm about her work and her willingness to help out and run what was a great conference. She is extremely supportive to our teaching community and we are all very fortuntate to be connected with her. It is a huge honour to have her here on my blog. Enjoy our interview!

Vicky: Marjorie, thanks so much for this interview. It is an honour to have you on the blog!

Marjorie: It is an honour to be here!

Vicky: Let’s talk about your journey into education. It has been a really interesting one. Could you tell us more about it?

Marjorie: I actually studied music in Buffalo, New York and wanted to be an opera singer.  While finishing my Master’s I took teaching qualifications as well and taught music in public schools for several years, before moving to New York City, where I continued with music by running a small opera company with a friend and working in advertising as my so-called ‘day job’.  I then took a chance and moved to Europe to audition for the opera houses and, as I needed a job, I began teaching English in an adult education institution. Bit by bit, this became my new vocation and I continued my training in the field of ELT by taking numerous courses and going to conferences. Ideas I learned in those early days have proved to be the staples I still use in the classroom.

Vicky: What a great story! Can you tell us a few things about your teaching currently? Where do you teach and what levels are your students?

Marjorie: I now teach English at the language institute of the University of Graz. This institute offers language courses for all students at the university, meaning the students come from a variety of fields, and in some groups, from a variety of countries. This makes class discussions fascinating as students are experts in many different areas and can contribute new perspectives to the conversation. As a balance to university life I very much enjoy teaching adults and have corporate clients in our local bank.  I have been teaching there as well some 25 years and work with people in different departments such as Human Resources or Project Management. The levels of the two groups are fairly similar, at the university I have students ranging from B1 to C1 as I teach both general English and a CAE preparation course and at the bank my students are mostly B1-B2.

Vicky: So university teaching, and Business English! Speaking of Business English, I first met you at the IATEFL BESIG Summer Symposium in 2012, in Paris. How did you become so involved with IATEFL? You are now the co-ordinator of BESIG.

Marjorie: I have been involved with teaching associations since the early 1990s when I first joined TEA (Teachers of English in Austria). I was quite active in the group and was Chair in the early 2000s. I attended my first IATEFL BESIG conference in Graz in 1995 and joined IATEFL at that conference. As IATEFL BESIG runs an annual conference every year, I found myself becoming a regular attendee and in 2008 joined the committee as one of the events organisers.  I had organised events with TEA and this seemed like a great opportunity to get more involved with BESIG.  In 2009 I was elected as one of the joint-coordinators and in 2011 as sole coordinator. Through the SIG-coordinators’ meetings I became more and more interested in the workings of IATEFL and when an opening became available on the Membership Committee I applied and began in that position in 2013. This has been a lot of fun as my job has been to organize the IATEFL webinar series which meant contacting people in the ELT field and setting up a program. What I am also proud of is that we have made the program quite diverse and at the end of last year, I officially applied for a Fair List Award for gender diversity in events in the UK.  This was for the for the IATEFL webinar series. IATEFL BESIG had won one for our Pre-Conference Event in Glasgow in 2012. The other aspect of IATEFL I find so important is the chance to meet people around the world, like yourself, who are active and interested in setting up sharing communities of practice. In addition to supporting initiatives like the Fair List, I have also contributed to the lesson plan bank of the Disabled Access Friendly website, a non-profit organization which promotes awareness of those with disabilities through ELT.

The Fair List Award Ceremony, IATEFL Annual Conference, Liverpool 2012, photo by Sue Leather

The Fair List Award Ceremony, IATEFL Annual Conference, Liverpool 2013, photo by Sue Leather

Vicky: What especially have you been able to do as BESIG coordinator?

Marjorie: I am very glad that we have continued and expanded our online events. Carl Dowse, our last web coordinator, began the idea of our weekend workshops.  These are online webinars run every month and are open to all. We then post the recordings for a week and afterwards they are moved into members’ area for them to view at any time.  We have been able to reach a number of members around the world with this. And what is so fascinating is seeing how people connect in the chat box on the web conferencing platform and exchange ideas with each other. This helps as well to build a global community.  We also began a scholarship for a ‘BESIG Facilitator’. This scholarship is set up to allow a BESIG member to travel to the annual IATEFL conference in the UK and the idea behind it is that the recipient will continue to work with BESIG when they get home.  Our first award, for example, was to Mercedes Viola who has been a valuable member of the BESIG Online Team, was appointed to ElCom team of IATEFL last year and was just co-opted to be joint web coordinator with Claire Hart. Another idea to enable more teachers from other places to attend conferences was to offer highly reduced rates to teachers from specific areas to our annual conference rather than awarding full scholarships to only a few. This has been very successful and we were able to have a large number of teachers from former Yugoslavian countries at our conference in Dubrovnik, Czech and Slovak teachers in Stuttgart and now teachers from Hungary and Poland in Prague. We also worked together with the local teaching associations and they put people up in their homes as well.  And the last initiative that we began in the last few years is our business English writing competition. This is open to all those who have not yet been published commercially. Winners then have their work published on the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online, and have the chance to win prizes. This extends our reach around the world and offers opportunities to budding writers of business English materials.

Marjorie with Mercedes Viola at the Annual IATEFL conference in Brighton in 2011

Marjorie with Mercedes Viola at the Annual IATEFL conference in Brighton in 2011

Vicky: What do you enjoy about being a SIG coordinator?

Marjorie: This has been (and continues to be) a very interesting experience.  I discovered for myself how important it was to be able to delegate to the right people while trying to keep an overview of what is going on in the SIG.  Another exciting aspect has been the creation of our ‘sub-committees’, the BOT which was started by Carl Dowse to help out with the online events and the BET, which was actually my idea. Although we have been holding annual conferences for over 25 years, we hadn’t published conferences selections recently and and it was thrilling to see the first BET publication, the Stuttgart Conference Selections in eBook format on both the BESIG and IATEFL websites.  And the Prague Conference Selections will be coming out in a few months conference selections. But what is so interesting about getting these sub-committees together is that we have the chance as a SIG to involve more people in the running of the SIG and also develop talent. Committees often tend to consist of people who have been in ELT or IATEFL for quite some time whereas these sub-committees brought new people into the fold. They get an idea of how the SIG works and when it is time to find people for the committee we have some who have already been involved in helping out.  The other part of the job that I like a lot is working with other SIG coordinators. It isn’t always easy coming in as a new coordinator as the job can be quite overwhelming and as I have been doing it now for a while it has been a pleasure to mentor some of the newer coordinators. There are so many little things that don’t need to be done from scratch and passing on the information can ease the transition from just being a committee member to actually being responsible for the SIG. In addition, it has been quite interesting working on a revision of the SIG handbook, looking at how the committees work and setting up guidelines for committee elections.

Vicky: You engage a lot and successfully in social media. How did you start using them, and how do you think they help educators?

Marjorie: I have to admit that I am a digital immigrant and have been learning how to use technology since I began teaching. But my first foray into active use of social media was when I finally took the plunge and got a smart phone. I was lucky in that two friends on holiday in Greece who were smart phone experts gave me lessons at the taverna every day at lunch so that by the end of the holiday I could use the apps on my phone. Through this I discovered the wonderful opportunities offered by groups like ELTChat which I take part in when my schedule allows. I also got on Twitter during that holiday and find it extremely useful for announcing events such as our upcoming PCE in Harrogate, our writing competition or the IATEFL BESIG conference I am organizing here in Graz. When I joined MemCom I began posting on Facebook pages to let people know about the webinars and in the meantime belong to a number of groups, mostly teaching organisations and associates of IATEFL.  LinkedIn is another of the social media sites I belong to and I find that the conversation threads in the groups are very useful for professional development. But perhaps one of the most important parts of using social media is the chance to develop a PLN (personal learning network). Although I have been attending IATEFL conferences for a number of years, I have to say that last year in Liverpool was a truly new experience for me. I got to meet people from my PLN, went to their presentations and expanded my knowledge of what is going on the in the ELT world in a way I hadn’t been able to do before. And through social media and the PLN, we can stay in touch throughout the year.

Vicky: You write a lot of class materials. What kind and what level are your preferred ones to write?

Marjorie: I think at this point I have written for everything except for primary school although years ago I recorded a cassette with children’s songs in English. Here in Austria where I live, I wrote a series of books for lower secondary and am just finishing a series for upper secondary technical high schools. I have been writing for Cambridge University Press for almost ten years, starting with a book of photocopiable activities for business English.  A few years ago I wrote two of the personal study books for the new Business Advantage Series, write regularly for the website, Professional English Online and just finished two projects for CD-ROMs to be used with coursebooks for the revised FCE and CAE exams. I have also written a book on banking for Pearson and revised a BEC Vantage book for Cengage-National Geographic.  Last year at IATEFL I was thrilled to launch ‘Spotlight on Learning Styles’, my first methodology book published by Delta Publishing in the Teacher Development series. This had long been a dream of mine to do and working on it was an incredible experience.

Vicky: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline you would like to share with us?

Marjorie: There are several projects in the pipeline at the moment, although some are at very early stages. However, at the university I have just finished the second semester of a project with some sixty students on their learning styles by making use of learning styles questionnaires, self-reflection sheets and a final survey. I just brought the stack of papers home yesterday and am very curious about the data.  This will be published as a chapter in a book put out by the university and I hope to be able to present on it at an upcoming conference. The other project which is going on at the moment is a module for ‘From Teacher 2 Writer’ on how to write activities for different learner types.

Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?

Marjorie: I would like to say that it is really wonderful to have the chance to be interviewed by someone I so admire in the field of ELT. Vicky, you were one of the winners of our ‘best first presentation’ award at the IATEFL BESIG conference in Paris and what I love about the field of ELT is the support we give to each other. This has been an important part of my reasons for becoming involved in an organisation like IATEFL. The very first webinar we organized was with Professor David Crystal and it was truly inspiring seeing that we were reaching people across the globe who would normally not have the opportunity to take part in such an event. This inclusive atmosphere and sense of community is essential to me and one of the main drivers for working within the IATEFL organization.

Vicky: Thank you so much for your kind words – they give me a lot of strength! And a huge thank you for this wonderful interview.

Publications:

In Business (2005). Cambridge University Press

Business Advantage Intermediate Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press

Business Advantage Advanced Personal Study Book (2012). Cambridge University Press

English for Banking and Finance 2 (2012). Pearson

Revised Pass Cambridge BEC Vantage (2013). Summertown Publishing

Spotlight on Learning Styles (2013). Delta Publishing

Friends 1 – 4 (on authoring team) (2002-2005) textbook, workbook and teacher’s book for Austrian lower secondary schools

TechCon 1 – 4 (on authoring team) (2011 – 2014) textbook, teacher’s book and teachers resource pack for Austrian upper secondary technical schools

She has also written articles for English Teaching Professional and The Teacher Trainer and TA journals and newsletters.

She writes regularly for the Cambridge University Press website, Professional English Online (2011 – present).

Love for Learning in a Library – An Interview with Efi Tzouri and Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou

Maria Vrachliotou and Efi Tzouri are two amazing ladies, who work at the Library of Serres, in Northern Greece! They captured my heart and many other educators’ on social media and around the world, and have captured children’s and parents’ hearts with all their outstanding work. 

Efi Tzouri

Efi Tzouri

When I first saw the things that they do at the the Library of Serres in photos on Facebook, I felt so inspired and every time I am so excited to see the activities they do with the children!

Congratulations to you both, Efi and Maria!

Vicky: Efi and Maria, thank you so much for this interview on my blog. We have never met in person, however, there is a possibility we will meet up soon!

Efi: Thank you very much for the invitation. It is an honor!

Maria: Thank you for inviting us to your “digital world”.

Vicky: My pleasure! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – I love to see how they got involved in education. How did it come about for you?

Efi: I used to work at summer camps for children after having graduated from school. There I realised, first of all, that working with children is more than exciting, and second and more important that sharing your knowledge is like opening a door to a world of imagination. I decided to study English literature because I would be given the chance to open this door.

Maria: It came naturally and with no planning at all. After the renovation of our children’s library, by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation through “Future Library”, I wanted to commit myself to something creative, so I preferred to work with children. All our library activities have educative and creative characteristics and promote reading, knowledge and fantasy!

Vicky: Both stories sound so interesting! You are both involved in an amazing programme for kids, which takes place in the Public Library of Serres, in the north of Greece. How did this start and can you share some snapshots of what you do?

Efi: I became involved as a volunteer in the first summer campaing which took place at Central Public library of Serres under the support of “Future Library” . I participated in various activities and projects which, as Maria mentions, promote creativity, cooperation and above all imagination. I feel really lucky that I met Maria who supported me, trusted me and believed in me.

Maria: Since 2011, our library is a member of Future Library, a network supported by Stavros Niarchos Foundation. FL’s main role is to promote creativity and innovation in all public and municipal libraries of the country. Consider Future Library as a great project consisted of partial subprojects, such as: renovation of library spaces (children’s libraries, medialabs), educative seminars for librarians, summer reading campaigns, just to name some. The programme for kids you refer to is the summer reading campaign that every summer takes place in our library and is devoted to those children and youngsters who stay in the city during vacations. All activities aim to promote creativity, love for books, knowledge and of course, FUN! My main role in all this is to manage the whole campaign, from finding the volunteers, to creating the program and promoting this initiative wider to the public. I also supervise the summer campaign at 11 libraries in north Greece and Thrace, helping them with problem solving and promotion tactics.

The children in action

The children in action

Vicky: What other plans are there for the future at the library?

Efi: We live in an era that people cannot make plans for tomorrow. My personal “plan” is to continue dreaming about a world in which children will be happy and will have free and entire access to knowledge. I will keep doing my best on making kids’ faces smile. The most important thing in order to make plans for the future is to cooperate with people who have the same dream;to make a better world.

Maria: No plans for the future. I only wish that we will keep on providing services of high quality to all and we will adapt to the changes and the needs of our users.

Vicky: I absolutely agree and hope for the very best. I am sure this kids will continue to ejoy learning and coming to the library! Going on to another subject now, there is a lot of discussion about whether libraries are becoming obsolete, what with the emergence of electronic books and such. As you both work in a library, can you give us your insights? Where does the future of libraries lie?

Efi: Technology is constantly being updated in order to serve the needs of young people who keep up with the latest mobile applications and digital tools and love to be informed, to chat, to make friends through social networks. In a Facebook generation ebooks definitely make the process of education more attractive. Libraries should and must follow this whole new perspective of receiving knowledge and updating their services in order to attract more young readers.

Maria: Ebooks represent and amazing educative tool in the hands of librarians. They can “talk”, excite the senses, use multimedia applications and be easily accessible. They shouldn’t be considered as a threat, but as a means to promote reading and support traditional books, that due to their material lack some of the above characteristics. Ebooks should be embraced and not rejected. After all, they are a part of the future. They still are books…Imagine a future world where ebooks where the norm and suddenly, printed books appear as a way of alternative reading. I am almost sure that the reaction of readers would have been the same: negativity, suspicion and rejection. The duty of librarians is to help readers to become accustomed to new “technological expressions”.

The Public Library of Serres, Northern Greece

The Public Library of Serres, Northern Greece

Vicky: You share and interact a lot on social media. Do you think social media help educators and the field of education in general, and if yes, how?

Maria: I see social media as a way of communicating easily and instantly with people around the country and the world. In the library we use them mostly as a promotional tool of our work and activities, but also as an informative tool on books, reading and library news. For educative matters I think that Efi could share her experience with us.

Efi: Digital and literacy tools created a totally new perspective on how education is delivered to learners. On line courses and conferences give a great chance to access knowledge. On line communities have been created in order to share, collaborate, exchange ideas and help educators discover their skills, improve their work. I have the feeling that nowadays educators should feel more optimistic, creative and strong than ever because their passion to share their knowledge and their efforts to pass it to learners can be supported, enhanced and evolve by the use of such a powerful tool that is called social media.

Vicky: What is one of your dreams for the library of Serres in the next few years?

Efi: One of my dreams is to continue giving children the chance to smile and making them feel happy. Despite the fact that the current situation is not at all positive, I will keep on working with love and patience, as Maria says. Staying together, helping each other, collaborating, creating and innovating make us think positive about the future.Things will change to better ones  in the end.

Maria: The last years my main concern is for my library to find resources that will give its staff the needed space to provide better services for all and to follow the technological advances. I fear about the future of libraries in Greece, but I will keep on dreaming and hoping as I know that the personnel of the libraries work everyday with love, patience and many times, with personal sacrifices, in order to keep a high level in services, especially now that everything undergoes a serious crisis.

Vicky: I hope everything goes very well for education in general, and for your wonderful library! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Maria and Efi – see you soon!

Efi: Thank you so much dear Vicky! It was a great pleasure!!

Maria: It was nice to “digitally” talk to you. Hope to see you soon in person. Thank you!!!

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A Reason to Move to Switzerland

Vicky Loras:

Another great post by Doug Peterson about internet speed and more…thank you for mentioning us, Doug!

Originally posted on doug --- off the record:

Other than to learn English at the Loras Network … Read my interview with Vicky Loras here.

You may come for the learning, but you’ll stay for the internet access.

Akamai has an interesting interactive visualization that they call “The State of the Internet“.

Select your metric for comparison and roll over the various countries to see the results.  As a basis for comparison, I ran an internet speedtest here.

My results….

Online life as I know it.

What’s the average for Canada?

Hmmm….

So, when Vicky says life is nicer in Switzerland, maybe this is part of her logic.

It’s an interesting activity to move over countries and look at the speeds that are reported.  What a great start for talking about digital divides.  How about testing and comparing speeds at your school?  Overall, it’s an interesting collection of data which could be used so…

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An Amazing Argentinian Teacher and Class – An Interview with Fabiana Casella (@FLCasella)

Fabiana is a wonderful educator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I connected with her on social media in 2013 and am so happy to see all the great things she does, which she speaks about in this interview. She blogs at http://all4efl.blogspot.com.ar/

Vicky: Fabiana, I first connected to you online a few months ago on Facebook, and have been following you and your lovely class ever since!

Fabiana: Yes, you’re right, Vicky! I feel honored you have been following me!

Vicky: The honour is all mine, Fabiana! I learn so much from you. My first question is, how did you become an educator?

Fabiana: Well, when I was in High School I wanted to be a History teacher and a lawyer. Later, I realized I had to study something connected with the foreign language I was studying so, I thought of the possibility of becoming an EFL teacher.

Vicky: Wow, a lawyer – me too! Thankfully, for the world of ELT, you became a teacher : ) Can you tell us a few things about your students? What ages they are, what sort of projects you engage in with them?

Fabiana: I have always taught teenagers. I used to teach children and adults too, but my schedule is tight for I am a full-time mom. Right now, I am only teaching 13-14 and 17-18. Projects? Well, I had done crazy, but creative things in the past, that is to say late 80s when I started teaching, such as make my students read and record a whole play called “Murder At Walton, Hall” on video (VHS) where they performed like real actors and actresses! They had to study the script, adapt it or abridge it and simply… act! It certainly was a lot of fun for them, for the class and  very rewarding and satisfying for all of us! Those that would not want to make a video, they made a picture story book with real photographs: they would dress up, take pictures and publish the “book” with narration and dialogs as in comic magazines. Some other projects were a little more complex and tough:my advanced students made documentary videos on the life of relevant people in the world: Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa or Ghandi. They studied the biographies by heart, sat in front of a camera and started talking.

Nowadays, everything is more digital: with my advanced Senior group I started commenting the news by reading Twitter, BBC World, CNN, NY Times, The Salisbury Post, Charlotte Observer and Buenos Aires Herald. There is something I truly value and it is the student’s self motivation and I try to promote and never let it die. The students you see in the photo below, traveled to Washington, DC and New York to attend the Global Young Leaders’ Youth Conference. They interacted with youngsters from all around the Globe and when they came back home they shared their amazing experiences with all of us. One afternoon, one of the boys got a voice message from a friend from Saudi Arabia telling all his international friends about the conflict in Syria. It was wonderful to listen to the girl and after that, discuss the topic all together.

Fabiana's students : )

Fabiana’s students : )

Last year, we worked on two projects: Alcohol Awareness-Underage Drinking  and Cyberbullying-Bullying-Digital Citizenship which was a real success, as my students participated actively in video, audio and images: in class and at home. A lot of reflection and comments in a foreign language was not an easy task, but they were fantastic.

alcohol awareness fabiana

Fabiana and her students’ project on alcohol awareness

Fabiana and her students' project on Cyberbullying

Fabiana and her students’ project on Cyberbullying

My pre-Intermediate group participated in a project called “We Are On The Air”, which is an idea of a fabulous, Facebook friend and colleague an EFL teacher from Greece called Theodora Papapanagiotou. The students made videos about the area where they live and what they do. The idea is to show a bit of our city, Buenos Aires as well as some others around the world which she will include in her lecture at TESOL Greece this current year.

Theodora and Fabiana's project We Are on the Air!

Theodora and Fabiana’s project We Are on the Air!

I believe English Language Learners need to speak the language at all times that is why I devote some part of my class to talk about updated news, like reading the newspaper in English, commenting on anything they read which they find interesting and doing vocabulary research. Last year, I also started a sort of flipping class using Edmodo, where I post varied types of tasks for them to do at home to be commented in class: Monday Morning News Update was We usually talk about the news the first minutes of the class: I feel my students need to be exposed to real content and have as much speaking practice as possible. Reading and listening make you a better writer and speaker.

It is some extra work for me and for the students, but in the long run we both benefit from it, especially THEM who are the ones that matter.

Vicky: I absolutely love what you are doing and have done with the kids, fabiana – it is all about discussing values and life as well, not only teaching the language and you do that very well. You also use culture a lot in your classes. Can you tell us how you do that?

Fabiana: Buenos Aires is a melting pot, so maybe because of that, I have always been multicultural, and have never feared to learn from some other cultures. I taught in the United States for six years as an international and cultural exchange teacher so I would say, that was the key point in my career as a teacher. It opened my mind more than it had been before, and made me see things from different points of view. I interacted with people from all the continents and  cultures which certainly gave me a lot of experience. I participated in fairs where we showed typical objects, traditions, music, videos, pictures, magazines from Argentina. We even took virtual trips to my country Since I came back to Argentina, I have worked at the same small private school, Colegio Canadá or Canada School, where its owners and administrators have always had a plan in mind: to be part of international projects: sports tours and exchange trips to English speaking countries, teach English as a foreign language intensively, make students sit for International Examinations, sing the Canadian Anthem or become acquainted with the History and Geography of English Speaking Countries. We do a lot of cross-cultural activities, I mean, if the Social Studies teacher is teaching The Tudors, we read about them in English, make posters to decorate the classroom, crossword puzzles, trivia and other activities online.

It is a tradition to celebrate Canada Day all around the school, this past year my students made posters, flags and sang the Anthem on video. Later, I decided to publish everything on a Padlet wall: http://padlet.com/wall/qlsb3wfv9t

Canada Day with Fabiana and her students!

Canada Day with Fabiana and her students!

Vicky: You engage a lot in social media. How did you become involved in them, and how do you think they help educators?

Fabiana: Honestly, I was really reluctant to expose myself online. About two years ago one of my best friends and colleagues and my friends in the USA convinced me to open an account on Facebook for me to be connected with other educators and keep in touch with them, respectively. Then, I became a sort of addict, browsed every education group and started to relate with the greatest teachers, educators, teacher trainers, and authors around the world. I began to build my PLN which has grown quite a lot and helped me to be a real connected teacher. Some time later, I even opened an account on Twitter. Sometimes I stay up really late as there is too much information to absorb in a  such a short day of only twenty four hours!. Besides, being online gave me the opportunity to work hard on my CPD because I began to study a Specialization on ICT and Education and attend many free webinars provided by the British Council, Oxford, Cambridge,  Macmillan, WizIQ, American TESOL, EVO Sessions,  BESIG, IATEFL and some others such as the amazing Tics en El Aula. I even presented at two International Conferences: The Reform Symposium and at the Global Education Conference. It is a wonderful way to blend being a passionate mother and teacher!

Vicky: You are so active and amazing how you combine everything! You also blog. Can you let us know what inspires you and what you write about?

Fabiana: Well, I started blogging a little because in all my twenty something years of teaching experience, I have never documented anything I did! Nobody told me…!

Last year, Shelly Sanchez Terrell invited me to join the 30 Goals Challenge Group on Facebook, and that was when I sort of pushed myself to write about my life as an educator. I know I am not perfect at what I do, but I try! I still have a long way to go, but still very happy I have already achieved some goals in my career. It takes time to think clearly what to write and how to write it: I am not a good writer, I´m just spontaneous and informal. Anyway, all I express is from the heart.

Vicky: How would you like to close our interview?

Fabiana: I am extremely thankful and proud to connect with you and learn from and with you. As I said before, I still have to polish some aspects of my English, my teaching and blogging among other things because English is not my first language, but I am really willing to learn and progress on a daily basis and I would like to inspire colleagues and students to feel the way I feel as a lifetime learner.

Vicky: Fabiana, this has been such a great interview!!! Thank you and the kids ever so much for sharing and letting us into your classroom!

Presenting the Plenaries – Part Three

Vicky Loras:

Another super plenary speaker will be with us in Bratislava, on June 7-8, 2014! Gabriela Lojová will be focusing on the learner. Will you miss this amazing plenary? Join us at the Ekonomická univerzita v Bratislave!

Originally posted on ELTforum.sk Conference 2014:

Gabriela Lojová

Gabriela Lojová

We are excited and happy to announce our third plenary speaker for ELTForum.sk 2014: Gabriela Lojová, who you might just know if you attended last year.

About Gabi

Gabi is an associate professor at the Department of the English Language and Literature of the Faculty of Education, Comenius University in Bratislava. Apart from teaching courses on English grammar, her research interests and educational activities are focused primarily on applied psycholinguistics, psychology of foreign language learning and teaching, and FL teacher training. The aim of her work is the humanization of foreign language teaching and looking for more effective ways of teaching English.

Her written work

Gabi’s books include ‘Foreign language grammar teaching: theory and practice’, ‘Individual differences in foreign language learning’, ‘Learning styles and strategies in foreign language teaching’ (with Kateřina Vlčková – Faculty of Education, Masaryk University, Brno, CZ) and ‘Theoretical foundations of teaching English in primary…

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Presenting the Plenaries – Part Two

Vicky Loras:

Another plenary speaker I am looking forward to listening to in Bratislava, on June 7-8, 2014 at the ELTForum.sk Conference, is Maggie Kubanyiova!

Originally posted on ELTforum.sk Conference 2014:

It is with great pleasure that we present to you our next plenary speaker, the outstanding Maggie Kubanyiova!

Maggie and her work

Maggie, originally from Slovakia, is a university lecturer and researcher at the University of Birmingham (UK) where she directs the MA Education TEFL programme which enables English language teachers from all over the world to develop their teaching skills and expertise. She has also lived and worked as a language teacher and teacher trainer in Slovakia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Maggie Kubanyiovay lecturer and researcher at the University of Birmingham (UK), where she directs the MA Education TEFL programme. This specific programme enables English language teachers from all over the world to develop their teaching skills and expertise. She has also lived and worked as a language teacher and teacher trainer in Slovakia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Maggie Kubanyiovay lecturer and researcher at the University of Birmingham (UK), where she directs the MA Education TEFL programme. This specific programme enables English language teachers from all over the world to develop their teaching skills and expertise. She has also lived and worked as a language teacher and teacher trainer in Slovakia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Expertise and Writing

Maggie’s areas of expertise include…

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 54,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Presenting the Plenaries – Part One

Vicky Loras:

I am delighted to be part of the ELTForum.sk conference! I love the enthusiasm and dedication of the organisers.
I am also very happy that I will get the chance to see Professor David Crystal in action once again! A huge thank you to everyone at ELTForum.sk – see you in Bratislava in June!

Originally posted on ELTforum.sk Conference 2014:

Professor David Crystal, OBE

Professor David Crystal, OBE

At ELTForum.sk, we are delighted to announce the first of our plenary speakers, who is none other than Professor David Crystal! We are honoured to have Professor Crystal as our keynote speaker at our June conference, where he will speak from his wealth of knowledge and expertise as the world’s foremost English linguist.

About David Crystal

Professor Crystal, who has been called a British ‘national treasure’, is a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster renowned for his research work in English language studies, in such fields as English language learning and teaching, clinical linguistics, forensic linguistics, language death, style, English genre, Shakespeare and lexicography. He held a chair at the University of Reading for 10 years and is now Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor.

His Writing

Professor Crystal is a prolific writer, with more than 100 books to his…

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A Welcome Note to New Teachers – Inspired by Burcu Akyol (@burcuakyol)

Welcome! (Photo by Vicky Loras)

Welcome! (Photo by Vicky Loras)

Burcu Akyol is an amazing professional and person in Istanbul, Turkey. Anyone who is active on social media (and not only) knows her for her professionalism, fantastic and widely-known educational conferences she organises and wonderful smile and character!

Burcu tagged me on her Eleven post and I decided to expand on one of her questions and turn it into a blog post. Burcu’s question was: What would your advice be to a new teacher?

I have been teaching for almost seventeen years. The beauty of our profession is that we keep on learning practically every day, and every beginning of the school year feels like the first time. I read somewhere that it is one of the few professions where we can start again from the beginning, every year : ) If I could give some advice to new teachers, first of all I would give them a huge welcome to this wonderful field.

Welcome and we are all in this together.

  • It is a great field, which can give so much happiness, but disappointment occasionally as well. Use this disappointment to improve on and reflect.
  • It really is okay to admit you do not know something, or have made a mistake. It took me a couple of years to realise it, but the students are mostly understanding and really appreciate it.
  • It is absolutely essential, and to the benefit of both yourself as an educator, and to your students as well and above all, to continue developing professionally. It doesn’t need to be endless hours consumed in sessions or giving up altogether on sleep. Connect with other educators on social media – and there are lots out there to help, support and motivate you. And you can do the same for them! And it can be as little as 5 minutes interaction per day. Believe me, once you start it, you will love it! You can go to my series of blog posts on how to start, either online, offline or both.
  • Reflect on what went well – it is so important, as we mainly tend to focus on where we didn’t do so well. Both in balance are great to do – reflection on good points helps in keeping it up, and reflection on negative aspects helps bring on improvement.

Welcome and wish you a great new beginning!

Special message: Since we are on the topic of new, I would like to tag Vicky Papageorgiou, a new blogger, to start the Eleven blogging challenge!

A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai

About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!

Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!

Annie:  Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.

Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?

Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.

Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?

Annie:  Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world.  Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.

Annie's kids involved in projects

Annie’s kids involved in projects

The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.

The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan.  It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.

Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes.  You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.

Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.

Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?

Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.

Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?

Annie:  I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives.  It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.

Annie's kids planning to send materials to Aphro's kids!

Annie’s kids planning to send materials to Aphro’s kids!

To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!

Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?

Annie:  I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us.  Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!

I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.

Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?

Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.

As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the P1060572journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.

Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!

Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day!  Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )