Are You Playing or Learning? – Both!

 

VickyReadingontheFloorI am in my ninteenth year of teaching and I have taught in Greece and Switzerland so far, the latter being my home for the best part of the past seven years. I teach students of all ages and levels. When people ask me why I like teaching Young Learners, I tell them that I love it because it is

  • creative
  • I learn so much from my little ones
  • fun!

First of all, let us look at who these lovely little people we call Young Learners are. We have Very Young Learners (VYLs), who are 3 – 6 years old and then we have Young Learners (YLs), who are 7 – 12.

When I teach them, as do many teachers I know and have seen when visiting their classes, I love to incorporate the element of fun. Children learn in a much more pleasant environment and much more effectively, I believe. To be honest, all students and even adults like the element of fun in their classes!

Sometimes however, I have been asked the following question: “Are you playing, are you just having fun, or are you learning?” I have been asked this both by parents of students or caregivers, and also by a few teachers – rarely the latter category, but it has happened!

I understand their concerns, and especially in contexts where children need to follow a specific methodology in order later on in life to sit for a language exam. However, I still think that even in those contexts, fun can be part of the lesson – if not the whole time, even ten minutes at the end can help!

Fun ideas are loads to be found, either from colleagues, other teachers we connect to on social media, or social media themselves as resources, like Pinterest for instance.

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(Image taken from http://thegreatadventurelab.com

Some fun ideas I use in my classes are:

  • Story Cubes! They are dice with pictures on them and I discovered a specific kind from a Canadian teacher, Aviva Dunsiger, whom I am connected to on Twitter. They are called Rory’s Story Cubes and there different categories. Kids shake them, throw them on a surface and depending on the pictures that come up on the dice, they have to put them in the order they want and then they can tell the story they have just created. They come up with some really fun and funny stories, and above all they practise their speaking skills (they can even write down their story as a small task in class) and learn and consolidate a lot of vocabulary! If you do now want to buy cubes, you can even make your own. There are so many templates online and you can draw or stick pictures on them – even better, along with the kids! They will love it and again, learn so much.
  • You’re the teacher today! Sometimes I let the kids know beforehand that in the next lesson they can be the teacher for a while. They can teach us something as long as they do it in English! I go and sit along with the other kids, either in the chair of the teacher-student or on the floor with the kids. Some teach us dances, some bring in things like their favourite Lego creations…and they just love teaching us! They love the responsibility that comes with it and they always take it very seriously.
  • Books! Some teachers and parents say that their kids do not love books…well, I think that children need to be exposed to them first of all. There are books all over my school. Not only on bookcases, but also on plastic boxes and baskets on the floor, on the window ledges. You can just see them picking them up on their own, finding the topics they like and sometimes they want to read them out loud in class! What could be better? We can also organise trips to bookstores or libraries with them. Read-alouds once a week or as often as we deem necessary. Kids just loving listening to grown-ups read to them, especially if we change our voice for every character!

These are only some ideas for Young Learners. The list is endless!

Let’s keep in touch! I would love to know what you do with your kids. Just remember to have fun with them and they are still learning no matter what.

All the best for 2016!

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This time of year has come again – so soon! 2015 has been a great year for my family and myself and I hope for you too. Apart from us all being healthy and happy and our work doing very well, we have had an addition to the family – my younger sister Christine had a wonderful baby boy in September! Welcome James – along with Maggie and Nicholas too, my eldest sister Eugenia‘s children : )

My blog sent me the Year in Review as it always does – but I cannot get it to post like previous years, so here it is, along with a HUGE THANK YOU for reading, commenting, supporting and making me think and learn!

I wish all of you the very best for 2016 – health, happiness and anything else you wish for.

May it be an amazing year!

The day k d lang came to our class…with Godot (Pt 1)

This is a long story…that can be explained in this post only a little. Along with our students, it can lead us to many places!

Let’s start from the very beginning. k d lang (she writes her name in lower case, just like  e e cummings : ) is a Canadian singer, with a golden voice, and my absolute favourite female performer. Her song Constant Craving is one of my all-time favourites. I just love the instruments used (especially the accordion is haunting and beautiful), the lyrics are amazing and k d’s voice spectacular.

The other day, I was listening to the song (again) and paying much closer attention to the video, which I have seen more times than I remember…and it hit me. I looked at the characters…they reminded me of something. Are the men in the theater where k d is, playing in Waiting for Godot? I did that play in university, in my very first year in a class called Introduction to Drama. I loved that play so much, that it became the main topic of a paper I wrote then. I checked the story behind the video, and it really is k d in a theater, where this play is being performed!

Can I use her song AND the play in class? Sure – I can try!

Here is how I am thinking of using it – let me know if you have any different ideas! I am positive that my students will take me to other places that I had never imagined before, so this is just a rough idea.

I am thinking of using it with B2 / C1 / C2 level students, because some of the vocabulary and themes can be a bit challenging for lower levels. So then for my classes, it will be mainly teens and adult students.

I will show them the title first. Some initial rough questions:

  • What do you think it means?
  • What does to crave mean?
  • Why does she call it a constant kind of craving? Guess what the song is about! (The artist herself has never clearly, in as many interviews as I have seen, mentioned who or what the source of inspiration for this song is. There is no correct or wrong answer in songs, poetry or literature anyway, I believe. They can all be left open to interpretation. We want our students to produce written or spoken language in English.)

I will let them listen to the song and watch the video then. 

  • What is the singer doing? What do you think her feelings are and why?
  • Where is she? Why do you think so?
  • What are the people in the theater doing: The audience? The people on stage?

Then I will give them the lyrics. You can see them and the activities in a document called ConstantCraving_LessonPlan and feel free to do anything you like with it, change it, create it from the beginning, anything!

  • We can go through the lyrics one by one and discuss, thoughts that come to our minds, feelings, anything.
  • They can choose a word or phrase that strikes them and write a small poem or short story.
  • They can perform / present their poems or stories in front of the class (if they feel comfortable, or we can do it with them / for them) – perhaps even with the song playing softly in the background, to give a more dramatic tone : )

Here is my favourite live performance of the song, for your pleasure – happy listening!

Waiting for Godot will be the next post – Part 2! Stay tuned. 

6 Years of Blogging!

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It seems as though it has been more than 6 years. 6 years of blogging!

I started not knowing what I was doing, what to share…and then it all fell into place! I got to know other bloggers, we exchange comments, I learn from readers’ comments, I share classroom experiences, lesson plans, personal moments too…

A million thanks to everyone who has read this blog, supported it, commented on it and taught me so many things!

Here’s to all of you, to 6 years and hopefully more to come.

Wading the Waters in Education #TheHumanTouch

Abdul Malik and his students (Image taken from http:///www.ndtv.com)

Abdul Malik and his students
(Image taken from http://www.ndtv.com)

His name is Abdul Malik.

He is one of the most inspirational educators I have ever come across. One of the stories I have included in the Human Touch presentations I have made in person and online, is that of Abdul.

The men and women who have the right ideals . . . are those who have the courage to strive for the happiness which comes only with labor and effort and self-sacrifice, and those whose joy in life springs in part from power of work and sense of duty.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919)

Every morning he sets off to cross the river in his town, in order to get to school. He could use a vehicle or public transport, but it would take him over three hours. By wading in the river, he arrives in fifteen minutes and to his students much faster, as he says. He swims with a tyre-tube around him, and his clothes and food in a plastic bag over his head. When he reaches the river bank right across, he puts on some dry clothes and walks uphill for another ten minutes, arriving at school where his enthusiastic students are waiting for him.

Apart from teaching them the school subjects, Abdul also teaches them how to swim. He not only shows interest in the kids’ learning, but also their well-being, by teaching them how to swim and avoid the danger of being in the water. He teaches them great human values by swimming in dirty waters every morning to get to them on time.

This story makes me think about teachers all around the world, and what they do in order to get to class, to teach their kids. Each one of them is wading their own waters.

A teacher:

  • using their own money to equip their classroom
  • pretending they are ok when they are sick / with a throbbing headache / with problems at home
  • taking multiple types of transport to reach school
  • skipping lunch to help kids during the break
  • fighting adverse administration at school
  • working with no moral / financial support from anyone
  • missing out on free time or time with their families to get work done.

When we think of the students and what progress they make and how much they can be helped, as much as how much they teach us during the week, it makes it all worth it. 

So in one way or another, we are all wading our own waters, metaphorically or literally, just like Abdul.

Here is a video about him and his wonderful students:

Remembering Terry Fox @terryfoxcanada

Terry Fox (Image take from Reuters)

Terry Fox
(Image take from Reuters)

Another academic year started here in Switzerland a month ago. One of my students that I have been teaching ever since I came here in 2009, came back to classes full of enthusiasm to tell me that next year, he will be going to Canada on a student exchange program!

Now my joy is double – he is going to my birth country for the first time, and he is staying there for a whole year! The things he will learn and he experiences of a lifetime he will have! I asked him whether we could incorporate various lessons about Canada into our classes and he agreed. I will be sharing them from time to time on my blog.

Today, I introduced him to one of the most inspiring Canadians – Terry Fox. I remember being inspired when I was in Grade 1 in Canada and our teacher was telling us about him. Terry lost his leg to cancer when he was 19 years old, but that didn’t stop him from deciding to run a cross-Canadian marathon when he was 22, with an artificial leg. He did this to raise money for cancer research. He eventually ran 5,373 kilometres, before cancer had spread to his lungs and was the cause of his death. The legacy he has left Canada and the world is tremendous.

There is a treasure trove of lesson plans from the Terry Fox Foundation that helped us a lot today and we will be going back to it with my other students as well.

We also watched this inspiring and moving video of Terry Fox’s amazing feat. A Canadian hero that continues to inspire us many years later.

Goal #1 2015: Support a Movement #30GoalsEdu


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Back to the amazing 30 Goals Challenge by Shelly Sanchez Terrell!

Here is Goal #1 for 2015 – support a movement. I am very fortunate to be part of several movements for educators – I learn so much from being part of them, interacting with the educators involved in them and I feel that they help me grow as an educator. Some movements I am a member of:

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  • The International Teachers Development Institute (iTDi). The motto of iTDi is For teachers, by teachers and that is the core of it: it is a community owned and staffed by teachers. There is a blog which is regularly updated around a specific topic, there are online courses which can last up to four weeks and are superb learning experiences, and there is also a forum where teachers from all over the world can get answers to many subjects and can interact. I am very honoured and proud to be one of the materials writers and bloggers for iTDi! I have learned so many things and the topics that have come up have made me think about my own teaching.

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  • BELTA Belgium. The Belgian English Language teachers Association is a three-year-old association which was co-founded by James Taylor, Mieke Kenis, Guido Van Landeghem and Ellen DePreter. It has already achieved so many things: there is an annual one-day event called BELTA Day, which attracts a great number of teachers not only from all over Belgium, but from all over the world! There is also a social event and train the teacher event, as well as Sunday webinars. There is also a blog and a Bulletin, of which I am the Editor! I am so happy to be part of this amazing new association for many reasons: the board members are all people I can call friends, we all share the same passion for education and it is great to see what new ideas constantly come up!

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  • TeachingEnglish blog by the British Council. I am happy to be one of the bloggers on this site. Every month, Paul Braddock gives the team, comprised by teachers from all over the world, some great topics to blog about and the interaction is great! I have been away for a short while, but will be back blogging in June!

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  • ELTChat. This is a superb resource – a weekly chat on Twitter, around a voted topic. This year, I am not able to take part in the live chat due to my heavy schedule, but every week after the chat, one of the educators who has taken part in it writes a summary. The summaries are so useful and I always get new ideas or tools to use.

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  • Last but not least…The Loras Network. It is exactly what our name says: my sister Eugenia and I have created a language and teacher training school, which is not only made up of us – it is made up of a network of all the educators we interact with on social media, we collaborate online or in person, we learn with and from. We hold an annual event, The Loras Workshop, and do workshops and talks everywhere! It is our dream come true!

Connecting with Canada – An Interview with Doug Peterson (@dougpete)

dougToday’s interview is with a person I have never met with in real life but I feel we have known each other forever – Doug Peterson! I am thrilled to have Doug on the blog for many reasons.

Doug is an educator from Amherstburg, Ontario Canada. He is a sessional instructor at the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor. He has taught Data Processing, Computer Science, Accounting, General Business Studies, and Mathematics at the secondary school level and was the Director of Business Education at Sandwich Secondary School in Lasalle, Ontario.  He was also a Computers in Education Program Consultant with the Greater Essex County District School Board and before that, the Essex County Board of Education.  In the middle of all this, he managed the Information Technology Department for the Greater Essex County District School Board.  Most recently, he is teaching the Computer Studies teachable option at the University of Windsor.

His formal education includes a Bachelor of Mathematics degree from the University of Waterloo and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Toronto. Ontario Ministry of Education and Training qualifications are in Data Processing, Computer Science, Accounting, and Mathematics.

Doug and I have collaborated on a number of occasions, either blogging or exchanging information on social media. I have learnt so so much from him and I really love his blogging skills! Doug can come up with a new blog post practically every day, and each time it is interesting and definitely worth reading and learning from. You can read more on his blog, Off the Record.

Thank you so much, Doug!

Here is his interview in two parts:

And here is the link to the interview Doug and I had on his blog two years ago.

Interviews

Here are some of the interviews I have given:

My #YoungerTeacherSelf post for @joannacre’s blog challenge

Where it all started - the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Where it all started – the old building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Joanna Malefaki has created an amazing blog challenge, where teachers write to their younger selves, called the #YoungerTeacherSelf blog challenge. What a great idea and what lovely posts we have read so far!

I had to start teaching almost as soon as I got into university, for the reason that I was studying far away from my family and they could not fully afford my studies. Therefore, I had to dive right into it, but I was fortunate enough to have great professors and colleagues to help me out in this difficult, but incredible journey.

Here is my letter to 18-year-old Vicky and a few years after that, when I was a scared teacher, afraid of many things and mainly how it was going to be. 

Dear Vicky,

I know that your whole life you had been dreaming of becoming a lawyer, and that education was your second choice. I assure you that this is a choice you will never look back on – you will absolutely love it and you will be happy you accidentally got into it!

You will have lots and lots of students and you will learn so much from them and from teaching them. They will come to you with dreams, enthusiasm or lack of it, a great variety of talents and each and every one of them will leave their mark on you. Mistakes are part of the deal, but don’t worry, you will always make them. You want to learn and become better, don’t you? These mistakes are there to remind you of this.

Some day, you will be connected to so many educators, not only face-to-face, but also through the internet. Especially through social media. What is all that social media stuff, you ask? You don’t believe me? Wait and see! You are excited about emails so far, but just wait until you see what other things you will be using in a decade or two! And you will learn so much from and with these educators, who come from all over the world.

It is absolutely fine to deviate from the coursebook. Do you think that task on page 76 is not appropriate or does not help your students? Skip it! Change it! Weave it into something else and don’t worry. Not all students learn the same way and not all tasks work out as they are designed. You want the best for your students, right?

Be happy you did not take that professor’s advice, who told you in your second year not to become close to the students at all, because they will only “take advantage of you” and “you are there only to teach them, not help them with their lives in general”. Regardless of their age, students are all human beings with feelings and if we can help even one of them with a problem they may be facing, it is so important. They are not only there for us to teach them the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect and then shove them out the door.

Whatever you do, don’t stop learning. You will never know everything and that is super! You will always be developing and growing as a teacher, through reading, writing, attending conferences, learning sessions. This is something you will tremendously enjoy. Keep going and keep learning!

Love,

36-year-old Vicky