I first heard Steve Wheeler in an online plenary for RSCON in 2011 and was very impressed. I then followed him initially on Twitter and then on other social media too. I learn so much from him and read his blog, which is one of the richest ones in education – both in quantity and absolutely quality.
I was honoured to interview him earlier tonight for my blog and I thank him very much for his time and valuable insights!
It has been quite a while I have wanted to interview DimitrisTzouris, a great educator in Thessaloniki, Greece. Dimitris does great things with technology in education. We initially connected on Twitter five years ago and then on other social media. Last March we finally met in person. And today, our first interview!
Here is our interview on a Google Hangout we did – and many thanks to you, Dimitris, for the interview, for everything you teach us every day, for being a great example of a learner (and for helping me with the Google Hangout!).
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.
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.
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 journey 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 : )
I am thrilled to have an educator I admire very much on my blog, not only for his teaching and his sharing, but also for his studies and blogging as well! I would like to introduce you to Osman Solmaz – originally from Diyarbakır, Turkey – now in Tucson, Arizona for his PhD studies.
Vicky: Thanks so much for accepting my invitation for this interview, Osman!
Osman: Thank you for the offer! It is my pleasure to be part of this!
Vicky: Thank you so much – I admire you so much as an educator! My first question is that exactly, how did you decide to enter the world of education – has it always been a dream of yours?
Osman: I had (still have) an amazing teacher of English that helped me a lot to become who I am right now. I think the influence of the teachers like him affected my decision; because I have personally witnessed how a teacher can have a deep impact in the lives of his/her students. Besides, I have always had an interest in learning languages and foreign cultures. Even though I started learning English at high school, I loved the whole process of developing a competence to express myself in another language. I hope to help my students to enjoy this process and much more as much as I did.
Vicky: You are also contiuing your studies – you are doing a PhD in Second Language Acquisition & Teachingat the University of Arizona. How did you choose this specific program? How are you enjoying it so far?
Osman: Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) is an interdisciplinary doctoral program in which 17 different departments participate. So, when you are enrolled in a program like this, you have a chance to collaborate with almost 80 professors. Even though this rich variety of options can be challenging for students, the steps to take in your PhD quest in the program are clearly stated. Needless to say, it is one of the best programs in the country partly thanks to its unique nature. Therefore, SLAT was in my radar from the first day I came across the program on the web. It is my second year at the moment here and I have truly enjoyed the people, the program, classes, professors, and beautiful Southern Arizona so far. People in my program are really friendly and they make us feel like a family. For example, we have had a Halloween party few weeks ago and it was mostly for international students to experience the Halloween culture. We have a Thanksgiving dinner on the corner!
Vicky: Before Arizona, you were in your beautiful country, Turkey. Can you tell us what you were involved in while you were there?
Osman: I studied at the department of English Language Teaching at Dicle University in Diyarbakır (hometown), a historical and vibrant city in southeastern Turkey. After teaching English to adults in a private course and then high school students at a private school, I have lectured at the university for a couple of years before Arizona. While teaching at the department of foreign languages, I received my M.A. degree in Applied Linguistics / ELT from Dicle University. I hope to be back once I am done, but it is early to speak yet.
Vicky: You engage a lot in social media. How did you become involved in them, and how do you think they help educators?
Osman: When I posted my very first tweet, I had no idea how powerful this tool would eventually be. I must admit that I was very lucky to come across #eltchat which helped me grow up as a language teacher and introduced me to a great group of colleagues with similar interests. I think of the social media as a giant and efficient teachers’ room where educators are constantly in touch. Social media helps educators become better teachers since the engagement and activity on the ‘virtual teacher room’ help us be exposed to education-related news and materials all the time. I think this makes us become critically aware of the process of learning and teaching. In the meantime, social networking allows users to form friendship and give us some friends to chat and hug when we attend a conference, instead of just presenting and coming back home. The process of getting involved with potential conference participants starts long before than it used to be and I think it is great! Last but not least, I believe we all should try to understand the core promise of how a technological tool can assist us with our teaching. It is Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest today, but there may (and will) be different technologies in the future and we should prepare ourselves for them. Therefore, I am interested in researching the connection between technological tools and how we educators can make the most of it.
Vicky: You also have a beautiful blog, idiolectica. I love how you incorporate various topics – apart from teaching, you have literature and recently you added a new category, Joys of Life. Can you let us know what inspired you for the name of the blog and what inspires you to write?
Osman: Thank you! I made up the word idiolectica! I haven’t personally seen that word anywhere. Idiolect is the unique linguistic system of an individual and –ica is “a collection of things that relate to a specific place, person etc.” (-ika in Ancient Greek). This makes me come up with the word idiolectica referring to the collection of things related to my own linguistic system. I chose this because I am thinking aloud in my blog and I like writing about the things I read and come across. In addition to that, my individual perspective is clearly reflected on all the blog posts (except guest posts). I think living in a foreign country, being enrolled in a graduate program far from home, having various interests, and surely reflecting on educational / linguistic / sociolinguistic issues are among the factors that make me write. It is definitely not a typical educator blog but I hope people like it and encourage me to continue writing. About Joys of Life, there are many small things in this life that can make us happy and happiness is most valuable when shared. That is why I started that category and I want to continue sharing the joys of life!
Vicky: That is so important and thank you for reminding us and helping us focus on all the great things in life! What would you like to tell all the educators who are reading your interview right now?
Osman: As teachers, we should have the desire, passion, and the knowledge to help our students become better learners. In order to achieve this, we must be great learners ourselves. Remembering our teachers being proud of us for being who we have become and students appreciating our efforts help a lot along the way.
Vicky: That is an amazing statement to close our talk. Thank you so much for this interview and I hope we meet up in person soon!
Osman: I thank you for helping educators meet educators through those great interviews and I am sure we will meet in one of the language-related events very soon!
I am delighted to present an educator from Indonesia in an interview she has given me: Ika Wibowo from Indonesia! I connected to Ika on Facebook from my first days there, about a year ago and I admire her for her passion to teach, connect and share! Over to Ika.
Vicky: Ika, thank you so much for accepting my invitation for an interview on my blog!
Ika: It is a great honor to be invited for an interview on your blog, Vicky.
Vicky: For those of our readers who meet you for the first time, can you introduce yourself?
Ika: My name is Ika Sari Lestiyani Wibowo. But, please call me Ika. I am an English Language Teacher at one of the English Schools and also at my own English School in Depok, Indonesia.
Vicky: That is great, Ika – you teach and run your own school! How did you make the decision to become an educator?
Ika: I think it will be very long story if I tell you all about myself. So I will you my short one. I’m being honest that after I graduated from University I did not want to be a teacher or an educator, as most of my family members are teachers. I tried to work at the office as a Public Relation Staff. But, after a few months I felt my heart was not there. Then, I decided to apply a job as a teacher at an English School, New Concept English Education Centre. In NC I feel like I am home. I enjoy every moment with my students. Until now, I’ve been teaching here at NC for about 8 years. “Don’t only teach your students but also educate them”; that is what my father always reminds me of. Here I am. I am proud of being a teacher and an educator.
Vicky: And we are all happy you became an educator! What do you like the most about your work? What are the challenges you sometimes face?
Ika: Being a teacher make me always feel young, as I have to always light my effort to share new knowledge and experience to my students. By sharing I will always be cleverer. Those are two things I like about my work. Indonesia is not an English-speaking Country, that’s why there are still many people who think that English is not important. So, most of students feel that they shouldn’t learn English seriously. This is a big challenge for me as an ELT. I have to always support my students to be willing to learn English then they will love it. Never give up.
Vicky: Let’s move on to social media. You use Facebook and other platforms to connect with teachers all around the world, and you are very active as well, sharing a lot of information and links. How did you become involved in this way of connecting in the first place?
Ika: The first time I knew about learning and sharing through social media was from the iTDi Workshop in February 2013. I met some great English teachers from other countries such as Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Chuck Sandy, Eric Kane, Yitzha Sheila Sarwono, Adi Cerman and Karl Millsom. Yitzha is the first person who introduced me to the PLN; then I met you, Vicky Loras. I learned a lot from you. Then, I fell in love with social media and I made more new friends after that.
Vicky: Thank you so much, Ika – I really appreciate your kind words and I am very happy we have connected! Moving on to conferences now. You are presenting at a conference in Indonesia very soon. Would you like to tell us what your talk will be about and what you are looking forward to?
Ika: You are right, Vicky. At the end of this month I am having a group presentation at The TEFLIN Conference at University of Indonesia with Nina Septina and Budi Azhari Lubis (both of them are ELTs and my friends in the iTDi Community). We will be guided by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto. It’s my first time for me to join this kind of conference. It’s challenging for me. My short talk will be about my personal development as an English teacher after I joined iTDi Community.
Vicky: Where do you get your inspiration for your teaching and your talks?
Ika: All of my ELT friends at iTDi Community, my ELT friends from the social media and also all of my students in my school and my students at the social media are my big inspiration for my teaching and my talks.
Vicky: What is your dream for the future?
Ika: In the future, I have some dreams which I have to pursue. The first, I want to learn more seriously about teaching – learning in order to be a better teacher. The second, I want to join seminars in other countries and meet all of my ELT friends in this social media. The last, I want to build a Free English School in my home village.
Vicky: They all sound amazing plans, and your last plan sounds wonderful too. I hope they all come true! And to close this interview, what would you like to tell all the educators reading your interview?
Ika: To all the educators who reading my interview, I just want to tell you something:
“ Teach with your heart and soul.”
Vicky: Thank you so much, Ika! I hope we meet each other in person soon.
Ika: You are always welcome dear Vicky. I hope so. I am looking forward to meeting you in person, too. Thank you for all the readers.
It is an honour to host once again on my blog: Dimitris Primalis. A huge thank you to Dimitris!
Dimitris Primalis has been teaching EFL for 20 years. His experience covers a wide range of groups including young learners, teenagers, adults and exam prep classes. He has written 5 test books for Macmillan and works at Doukas, a Microsoft Mentor School in Athens, Greece. Dimitris and Chryssanthe Sotiriou won the 2013 IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG scholarship.
Teachers by definition are asked to bridge social, racial and cognitive gaps. Yet, creating gap activities can help students bridge communication gaps and develop their speaking and writing skills primarily as well as listening and reading (depending on the activity). Technology can revive this old technique whilst developing 21st century skills like the “C”s (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication). In the context of flipped classroom and using a Learning Management System (LMS), such activities can be used even more efficiently by assigning watching, reading or listening at home. Thus, classroom time can be exploited for more language production as you will read below.
What exactly are information gap activities?
According to wikipedia: “An information gap task is a technique in language teaching where students are missing information necessary to complete a task or solve a problem, and must communicate with their classmates to fill in the gaps.It is often used in communicative language teaching and task-based language learning. Information gap tasks are contrasted with opinion gap tasks, in which all information is shared at the start of the activity, and learners give their own opinions on the information given.”
Why try them in class?
1. motivate learners to use language meaningfully by sharing info in order to solve a problem
2. require collaboration through pair or groupwork
3. are open ended and there is no correct or incorrect answer
4. encourage creativity by stimulating students’ imagination
5. involve students and urge them to communicate with peers in L2 so that they can bridge the gap
6. integrate skills (a combination of speaking, writing, reading and/or listening depending on the task)
1. Split viewing/listening for speaking/writing activity
Choose a video that narrates a story. Divide the class into two groups: the viewers and listeners. Ensure that the latter are your audio type learners or the ones whose listening skills are developed. In the former group include the visual types as well as the weakest students.
Give viewers a couple of key words. Ask them to leave the classroom and try to anticipate what the story is about.
Listeners listen to the narration/dialogue and the sounds (unplug the IWB so that there is no picture) and take notes.
Then listeners go outside, share notes and exchange ideas on what the story is about.
Viewers come into the classroom and watch (sound off) taking notes. Allow them a couple of minutes to exchange notes and ideas.
Invite listeners into the class and ask them to form pairs or groups with viewers. Each pair or group should have at least one listener and one viewer. Ask them to join forces, compare notes and try to come up with the story. The only rule is that they will have to use L2 throughout the activity. This can be a speaking activity or depending on the time available, it can be a group writing activity.
Each group reports to class their version. As follow-up students have to write the rest of the story.
I have tried it with an old black and white film “Rebecca” ( 01:34-03:56) has stimulated students interest and inspired them to produce interesting stories. The viewers saw the man ready to jump but the listener heard the woman’s voice shouting “No…Stop!!!”
1. Let the director of studies know beforehand that student groups will be outside the classroom for brief periods of time. Alternatively, do the activity with another colleague so you can have listeners in your classroom and she can have viewers in hers or vice versa.
2. Stop viewing or listening when suspense heightens. It does not have to be at the same point.
3. If the film or video is based on literature, ask students to read the next chapter of the book/reader to find out what happened next.
Flipped classroom: if there is a LMS or a wiki, you can upload the mute version of the video and the audio version in mp3 form and ask students to do watch/listen (depending on the group they are in) and take notes. This saves time for more communication and interaction in class.
In the second part of the post you can read about jigsaw reading.
It was around four years ago when I first moved here to Switzerland and I was full of dreams for my new life. I had found a job before I came – or so I thought. The crisis arrived in Europe and then Swiss employers decided to stop employing people for a period of time. The school that had promised to take me on informed me they could not anymore. I was suddenly without a job.
One day, when I was feeling sorry for myself, I decided to Google ELT materials and look at things I like to feel better. Ken Wilson’s blog came up and I started to read it. I then got in touch with him and he told me not only to start my own blog, but to make a Twitter account to connect to more teachers. Up until then, I didn’t have any contact with technology apart from emailing and googling. Twitter?I thought.A social media platform where people share details of their lives…to connect with teachers? I did it, not without hesitation though. I wasn’t sure how it would help me – not at all doubting Ken, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything to say. I started connecting to other teachers and seeing what they posted: useful links, their blog posts and posts of others too, new tools in technology to use in class…I loved it so much! And I haven’t looked back ever since.
If you are an educator and are not on Twitter, I strongly suggest you do it. It will help you in more ways than can be mentioned. How to do it?
– Join the weekly miracle of a chat called ELTChat. It is a weekly double chat which started in September 2010, when a group of educators began to use Twitter to discuss various topics related to ELT. It is one of the greatest tools for professional development. Every Wednesday at 12pm and 21.00pm, ELT teachers from everywhere in the world join in on Twitter to discuss topics that have been voted for.
– Here is a video made by a super educator in Australia, Selena Woodward, called Getting Started with Twitter – For Educators. Many thanks to Tina Photakis, another super teacher in Australia, who posted it on Twitter and to Selena for creating it!
We are all there to help you out! Make an account and join literally thousands of educators out there.
I would never have met all these lovely people mentioned and many more, if it weren’t for Twitter.