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

Fabiana is a wonderful educator based in Buenos Aires, Argetina. 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?

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!

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 : )

Blog Challenge – What’s Your Story?

My sister Gina and I, both educators, made a big change in our lives – What’s Your Story?

I am very happy to announce my first ever blog challenge called: What’s Your Story?

After writing on my blog about my experience on moving to Switzerland after closing our school in Greece, my adjusting to a new country, new job(s) and a new life in general, I would love to hear your story! For me, writing about it was like a catharsis, revisiting a difficult time in my life, which turned out to be the best decision I have ever made!

If you decide to take part in the challenge, it can be about anything you consider important in your life or career, that has helped shape you as a person or educator. You can decide what to share!

  • Have you made a big move?
  • A career change?
  • Have you been teaching and living in a country for a long time, but have seen changes in yourself as a person, educator or both?
  • Are you thinking of a change in the future?

You can choose! If you have your own blog, post your story there and I will also add the link on my blog, on this post, if it is okay with you as well. If you do not have a blog, feel free to send me your post at vickyloras@yahoo.ca and I will post it on my blog! Or ask a friend who has a blog, anything you like.

Thanks for reading and I will be very happy to read your stories – as I am sure lots of people out there are too!

Posts on What’s Your Story:

  • Matt Ray writes on his blog: I woke up that morning screaming in pain, struggling to move my legs. No doubt, I put quite a fright into my parents who, in the midst of our summer vacation, were confronted with their 6-year old son suddenly being unable to walk. [...]
  • Sue Annan writes her own story on her blog: When I left school I applied for the local Teacher Training College and was accepted. I was half way through the programme when… [...]
  • Sharon Hartle has shared her wonderful video-post Where English Has Taken Me Now for the challenge.
  • Paco Gascon shares how he went through a dilemma in his post: The point is writing about some kind of turning point in our life and/or career, so, I’m going to tell you about how I had to decide – in a matter of hours – whether to take up (again) a career as a secondary education teacher or to stick to a juicy full time contract at a graphic design studio. [...]
  • Read Tyson Seburn‘s post Turning Points in You Story: Do your colleagues know much about your language teaching background beyond a list of qualifications and positions of employment? Sharing where you began, your process of growth, and goals for the future can help inspire, foster and contribute to growth in members or your community, not to mention build a connection to individuals where there may have been little before. I hope sharing mine supports one of these. [...]
  • Read Lesley‘s post for the challenge: I’m going to tell the story about how I came to be an English language teacher. The last thing I thought I’d be when I was at school was a teacher.  Being a librarian was probably the second last thing.  But I’ve been both! [...]
  • Tinashe Blanchet has written This Is My Story: In response to Vicky Loras’ “What’s your Story?” challenge , I am posting a little of my personal story this morning in hopes that it will shed further light on why I do what I do. [...] I grew up on the west side of Chicago as the only child of a single mother. There were many issues between my mom and me, especially as I got older and began to test boundaries. [...]
  • Tuba Bauhofer explains how she learned a third language and how much it influenced her life in her post Bilinguality and Literacy by Manjula Datta: I read this book when I was doing my research for the assignment I had to write in my course. I liked how the writer referred to her own language learning experience as a foreigner in the UK. [...]
  • Faisal Shamali recounts a story of a student of his in his post Finally I Did It: My name is Musallum. I was in level One in FPU. I studied Speaking course with Mr. Faisal. I want to tell you about my story clearly and honestly. [...]
  • Tara Benwell has submitted a super video post about her story: How she has developed a great learning community on My English Club!
  • Read Janet Bianchini‘s beautiful and moving story The Abbruzzo Dream – My Story: Worlds apart yet a destiny foretold. My blood is 100% from Abruzzo, my heart is 100% British. Two countries forever intertwined from the moment of my birth. [...]
  • Read Luiz Reikdal‘s post of how his teaching and life changed through the use of technology: [...] Since November last year I started using and testing technology myself. That was breathtaking…by just visualizing the potentiaIity of Web 2.0 in the classroom. [...]
  • Fiona Price from England has written her beautiful story as well: My Story: [...] It was back in 1977, in the days of the Magic Bus, which involved a very long and extremely exhausting three-day coach trip to Athens with an overnight stop-over in Austria. [...]
  • Lu Bodeman from Brazil writes about her story: How she got into teaching and her beautiful multicultural background: [...] Well, I stumbled into the English language teaching profession, really. I never took formal language lessons, but discovered early in life (7 years old) how languages and culture would be important in my life. [...]
  • Naomi Epstein writes about the time she immigrated from the States to Israel, an eleven-year-old girl: [...] I was able to identify with her story of immigration as I moved to Israel from the United States when I was eleven years old. [...]
  • Arjana Blazic writes about her transformation as an educator: [...] Do I lead such an amazing life? Do I have such a story? I’ve never lived anywhere else but in Croatia. I’ve never done anything else but teach. I’m not thinking about a change in the future… [...]
  • Vicky Saumell writes about how she transformed into a full-time teacher: First of all, I want to be straightforward about the content of this post: it is not about technology. So I want to apologize in advance to my techie audience but I have wanted to write about this for a while and this is the best space for it, anyway. [...]
  • Işıl Boy  writes her story originally written for Dave Dodgson‘s great blog: First, I want to thank my dear course mate Dave for offering me to write a guest post on his insightful blog. We are both doing our master’s at the University of Manchester, Educational Technology and TESOL. [...]
  • Liam Dunphy takes us on a trip around the world with his beautiful story: [...] I grew up in Dun Laoghaire, a pretty seaside port town on the south side of Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. [...]
  • James Taylor celebrates his blogoversary and tells us his great story: [...] I studied Media Studies, specifically television production, at university. I studied it because I was, and still am, an avid consumer of the media and the arts. [...]
  • Mieke Kenis recounts her beautiful story of her love for teaching and England: [...] My story is a long one, as I have been teaching for 31 years but it’s a simple story as teaching is all I have ever done. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. [...]
  • Dave Dodgson tells us his very interesting story:  [...] Over the last few weeks, I have thought a lot about what to write – the story of how and why I decided to enter the world of TEFL in the first place, what me me come to and stay in Turkey, how I ended up teaching kids, when I started to see this as my career and not just a way to live abroad or pay the bills…. [...]
  • Brad Patterson, a very good friend in France, has published his photo-blog story: Beautiful post and pictures! : Imagine a pilgrimage… where you trekked for month after month… and each step took you somewhere you’d never been before… [...]
  • Wiktor Kostrzewski writes his wonderful journey through English on his blog: [...] It’s late in the evening. We’re sitting in the kitchen, my Dad and I. We’re going through the first few pages of my first English textbook. My Dad asks a question, and I think long and hard before giving an answer. “Yes,” he says, surprised. “That’s not what the answer key says, but that’s also possible.” [...]
  • Ana Luisa Lozano writes her beautiful Ecuadorean story on her blog: [...] It has been a long learning and teaching path  since 1998, wonderful time in which  I have had the opportunity to teach  English to  Primary, Secondary and University students. [...]
  • Ann Loseva from Moscow writes her inspiring story – and gives us all a lot of inspiration and strength: [...] How have I become the teacher I am, the personality I think I am? Well, it does look to me like a pretty tough question to tackle. Many things have been happening shaping my teaching style and affecting my personality. [...]
  • Fiona Mauchline writes her story in parts and she has offered to add them to the blog challenge – parts of her childhood, parts of her life… The Art of Being Different Part One, The Art of Being Different Part Two, The Art of Being Different Part Three.

How to lead students to do international cultural exchange, where are the resources and lesson planning – An #ELTChat Summary

Close-up of gondolier, by Chiew Pang (@AClilToClimb) - @eltpics

Last Wednesday’s evening session of #ELTChat focused on what a lot of educators (including myself) consider to be an important element to teach – leading students to international cultural exchange – and how to plan for these lessons and find resources.

The material that came out of this ELTChat is so useful for educators who wish to incorporate culture in their language teaching.

First of all, Marisa Constantinedes, @Marisa_C made a point of asking us to define culture. The answers that came up were:

  • Sharon Noseley (@shaznosel) came up with this nice and short definition: Culture – traditions/politeness/formal language.
  • I mentioned that culture is interacting with people from other countries, in combination with the students΄own cultures and what they can learn from each other.
  • James Taylor (@theteacherjames) : Culture is set of customs & beliefs that roughly represent the society you come from.

The ways we came up with connecting our students with others worldwide are:

  • Sharon Hartle (@hartle) mentioned that in their tandem project, two students from different countries teach each other with help from advisers, then write up summaries of their experience.
  • Wiktor Kostrzewski (@Wiktor_K) has sed this idea: A warmer he did for his British Culture Uni class was: 1. “Show me what’s in your bag.” 2. “Now tell me what this stuff says about you.” He added that he was thinking of getting groups to take photos of a “corner” of their houses that tells their story.
  • I mentioned that with our school in Greece, some kids had the opportunity to visit Canada and meet other kids from everywhere around the world.
  • Sandy Millin (@sandymillin) said that encouraging students to ask questions about each others’ cultures in multilingual classes are always the most motivating.
  • Shaun Wilden (@ShaunWilden) made a very important point that today technology is a very important tool in integrating culture in language teaching.
  • An idea I use with my adults is that they do Powerpoint presentations about their countries, the the rest ask them questions and develop into nice conversations.

Marisa then posed the question if the coursebooks and materials we use integrate culture well with the language we teach. Berni Wall @rliberni said that it depends on the context. Marisa mentioned that she finds the majority of coursebooks a bit British-centred and I added that sometimes they also fall into stereotyping.

Traditional soft toys from Myanmar, by Cherry Philipose (@cherrymp) - @eltpics

Ideas that were shared about how teachers actually brought their students into contact with other cultures were:

With so many ideas on how to include international cultural exchange in your classroom, all we can say is have fun by having various cultures in your language teaching! Students always benefit from this, linguistically and culturally.

#MoreThan140 – Meet Sue Annan

Get to know more about Sue Annan, a fantastic teacher of English as a Foreign Language and teacher trainer, who lives on Jersey Island, an island between England and France. Sue talks about her work, social media and music…enjoy her interview!

To receive updates about other “More than 140″ interviews, make sure you follow Matt Ray (@mrmatthewray) and Vicky Loras (@vickyloras), follow the hashtag #MoreThan140 and watch this blog.

My Contribution to Eva Büyüksimkeşyan’s Blog Carnival #24 – Warmers and Fillers

Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, English teacher and good friend!

I am delighted to be asked to take part in the 24th Blog Carnival on Warmers and Fillers for the first days back at school, hosted by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, an English teacher based in Istanbul, and since last November, a dear friend! Eva teaches at Esayan High School and does a lot of great projects with her students. She also collaborates internationally with other teachers around the world. Eva writes the most amazing posts on her blog, A Journey in TEFL. Thanks so much for this opportunity, Eva!

I am very happy to teach English as a Foreign Language both to children and adults. I enjoy working with both age groups and in this post I will share my ideas, which I hope you will find useful and like! I try to come up with new activities every year, but these are our favourites and as an educator, I see that they help both children and adults make a great start to their lessons.

Young Learners:

  • As I like to incorporate culture in my classes and I am fortunate to have multicultural classes, I begin by asking them where they are from and if they can tell us a greeting in their language, sing a small song or tell us a small poem or rhyme. For the reason that on first days young learners can be very shy, I start by demonstrating the task myself! That can help the kids a lot and keep the activity going.
  • We make posters on A3 paper. They can write their name, if they are able to, and around it make little drawings of things they like, their families, their hobbies and so on. When they are finished, they can make a small presentation to the whole class so we can all get to know them!
  • My name is Vicky and I like basketball! We can all sit down in a circle and take turns, rolling a ball or giving each other a stuffed toy and introduce ourselves – our names and our favourite thing or activity. That way they can hear each other and learn names – perhaps even find out common things they like!

Adult Learners:

  • Incorporating culture again, I make a little introduction of myself (My name is Vicky Loras, I was born in Canada of Greek parents and I am an English teacher) – it welcomes them to the first lesson and they can feel more comfortable. They can even start asking me or even better each other questions. Plus, they like this small talk for the first lesson – we can start talking stock markets and hedge funds in the following lessons!
  • Then taking some questions from a book I absolutely adore, Cambridge Business English Activities, we start talking (culture is in here too and the questions can lead to some interesting and sometimes funny discussions!). This kind of discussion loosens them up in the first lesson, because they can be nervous as well and serves as a great introduction to fantastic lessons to follow. The questions are of the kind: If you were at a reception, would you take the last piece of cake? or Do you work on a problem by analysing it or using your instinct? or How would you react if a colleague got the job you wanted? and so on.
  • What I have noticed is that they love talking about their work and working environment, their position in the company and perhaps what they did before, so I just let them talk to us about it. If they are from the same company, they can fill in for each other when they remember something, so everyone gets a chance to talk – or if they have not see each other before, they can learn more about the people in their class.

I hope these tips have helped you. Stay tuned to Eva’s blog to read great ideas form other educators who are also taking part in the Blog Carnival. Thank you for reading!

Number Fourteen – Build An Ideal Classroom Culture – The 30 Goals Challenge

An ideal classroom culture is achieved when everyone enjoys being there! (Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics, taken by Adam Simpson, @yearinthelifeof)

The fourteenth goal is, in my opinion, a very strong foundation for the rest of the goals to materialise. An ideal classroom culture has been successfully created when:

- Students feel comfortable in their classroom and view it as a place where they love to learn.

- Educators and students co-operate and see each other as members of a great learning team.

- Parents and caregivers are welcome to come in and visit at times, in order to enjoy the great learning atmosphere.

- There is mutual respect and everyone is valued.

- Students do not leave immediately when the lesson is over, but enjoy staying at school and working on their school material or helping each other. (Sometimes they even stay after school to help the teacher tidy up the classroom, which is very nice and reflects the atmosphere of helping and co-operation!)

- Educators feel comfortable in their classrooms, love what is happening there, that they even go there on weekends or stay longer after school (as long as they don’t overdo it!).

I Don’t Want To Say It, Sir!

My story comes from about twenty-two years ago…

I was about eight when my family decided to move to Greece from Canada. I remember not taking it very well, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I first saw the school I was going to attend, I saw this old, gray, stone-built construction. “This is your new school!” my mom said enthusiastically. I thought it was an old church the way it looked.

So school started and apart from the occasional teasing I got from classmates about my broken Greek accent (which has been rectified now, even though some friends of mine say that there still are English sounds in my Greek!), I liked school. I remember having a wonderful teacher, a very open-minded gentleman who taught us not only to the subjects but also values which would accompany us later as well.

When there were national days, our school (and all Greek schools) organized celebrations during which students recited poems, performed skits which were about the respective historical event that had happened on that day in the past and some teachers made long-winded speeches about how the Greeks had resisted any invaders and come out unscathed through the centuries. So, the 25th of March which is a national day in Greece arrived. Our class was to stage a performance of the women of the period who had helped that day. My teacher thought it would be a good idea for me to have the starring role in the play, as he thought it would also give me confidence in my spoken Greek.

The Entrance to The University of Istanbul

So the teacher gave us our scripts. Reading through it the first time at home, I found something very disturbing. I did not tell my parents but decided to directly tell the teacher. There was a line in my script which I thought (and was really) quite offensive to Turkish people (and in a children’s play!). I remember it to this day and it is not worth remembering, or mentioning, for that matter.

The first rehearsal came. When I had to deliver the horrible line, I got a lump in my throat and stopped. My teacher thought I had forgotten what I wanted to say and whispered it out. I still did not say it. The teacher, a very kind and caring gentleman as I said earlier, took me aside and thought I had a case of stage-fright. “Don’t worry”, he said. “You are doing very well and your Greek has improved a lot!” The moment of truth had arrived. “Well sir…” I said a bit hesitantly. “It is about that line.” “What line?” he said. “The one that says something bad about the Turks”, I answered and I remember how frightened I was that he would scold me or even throw me out of the play; I was quite proud to be the star, I must admit and was happy about the confidence he had in me to perform in front of other people in Greek! In addition to that, I felt terrible about delivering such a line. “Well”, he said, “don’t worry. It is an expression they used to use back then and we all know you do not mean it. Let’s try it again tomorrow.”

I went home crying after that (scaring the daylights out of my mom who thought who knows what happened at school). After my parents coaxed me into telling them what had happened, I finally told them: “I don’t want to go back to that school again.” They were still asking me why, because I was not telling them. Finally I blurted out: “Because they are making fun of the Turks at that school!” (It took them a lot of persuasion to get me to go back the next day, telling me not to worry and always to remember that everyone is equal no matter where they are from.) Next day: rehearsal number two. The time of the dreaded line arrives again and this time I break into tears in front of everyone and I remember raising my hand and saying: “I don’t want to say it!” (This time certain that my teacher would be furious with me and tell me to leave the school play. But I was determined not to let this pass – a tough little eight-year-old!). My (very patient and kind) teacher took me aside again and told me he would leave out that line altogether and I would just say the rest. My first little victory against negative comments against other countries!

Thankfully incidents like this have disappeared from schools today. Or so I hope.

Ataküle Tower in Ankara (Taken from flickr.com)

I see this now in my teaching. No child is too young to grasp notions like this. Kids understand and they know what is fair and unfair. For this reason, to all teachers, please do not hesitate talking to children about issues of multiculturalism and racism and diversity and so on. Please do not think that they might not understand. Their minds are fresh to accept new ideas and to understand that people are different and it is okay to be different. They will both accept other people and will feel more comfortable about who they are at the same time. The classroom is a place where this can be implemented but first of all children’s primary education must be based on these humanitarian notions. It is the best kind of education they can get.

Note: When I wrote this post, I was not out to criticise the specific system, as I think that unfortunately in many educational systems in the world notions like these are perpetuated. It is just an example of such notions. My teacher demonstrated that he chose not to do so. We can all do the same and show our students the beauty of being different – the beauty of all cultures.

Dealing with Challenges in Another Culture

 

A great view of Zurich

 

When working or traveling abroad, we should take into consideration that every country has its own cultural elements, differences and diversity. We should stand from an objective view to look at all these newly found things and get rid of any ethnocentric behavior we may have, that our country is superior to others that are not similar to ours. Every country has its own beauty, which is reflected through its culture and mentality.

Of course, we may all have our challenging moments when abroad. For instance, three years ago when I was traveling to Canada, I had to get off on an in-between stop in Frankfurt. As I do not speak any German, except for very basic words, I said Good morning in German to the airport official and then I switched to English, in order to ask for the restrooms. As soon as he heard me speak English, he made a sweeping movement with his hand as to brush me away and sent me to somebody else, speaking to me abruptly in German at the same time. I felt very frustrated at the moment and rather upset. Just then I remembered what my Greek-German aunt had told me: that a lot of German people refuse to speak in another language apart from their own. (Well, the specific official could have been a little more polite – but that was a matter of personality and not a generalization about all German people!) Even though I felt rather perplexed and uncomfortable at the time of the incident, later on contemplating on it I thought that Germans feel very proud of their culture, which is a positive thing. However, it would be good on everybody’s behalf, regardless of where they are, to be a bit more flexible with people who have no knowledge of their language.

To tell the truth, I mostly felt disappointed with myself for not having learned some more useful phrases beforehand which might have been of some assistance to me then and shown respect to the people of the country I was in. This is something I did before visiting a German-speaking part of Switzerland (specifically Zürich) for the first time and the locals appreciated it deeply. Now that I live in Switzerland, I am trying to learn German (and Swiss German as well!). I consider it as a sign of respect to the people who have welcomed me and additionally it helps give me an understanding of the people and the culture.

In fact, this would be a good preparation in order for someone to adjust more easily in a new country when going there to work and live. Considering learning the language of the country you are about to spend a period of time in is a great decision which also shows your respect to the people and their culture. The people will appreciate it very much as well. Another good step would be to learn about the cuisine of the country and what alternatives one can eat daily, in case the food is too spicy or too heavy in contrast with one’s own cuisine. Reading up on the history of the country we are about to visit is great in order to understand the people’s origins and mentality, as well as communicating with people who have lived there or visited the specific country to share experiences.

Concerning our own origin and our countries, it is great to know the history of our country, speak the language properly and know about the culture. All this is good, as long as we do not become ethnocentric. It is negative towards other people and their cultures to think that our own countries are superior to others, for the reason that first of all, there is no such thing as the best country in the world and the richest culture. Each country is uniquely beautiful, with its language and culture. People with ethnocentric behaviors have difficulty relating to other cultures, as they are so negative towards learning about them. In addition, people with an ethnocentric behavior create negative impressions to others and the country they come from as well. It is good to know who we are and where we come from, but when we come into contact with other cultures it is nice to have an open mind and tolerance to diversity.