‘The Seven Year Itch’ and ELT

7-year-itchAfter seven years in ELT management I decided that I need to live the life that I want to live and not just continue doing what I had been doing for the last seven years, just because of the ‘conditions and status’,  or because that is what everybody expected me to do.  My resignation from the Open University surprised everybody, but for me it meant going back to teaching, to learning and to working directly with teenagers.

On 30 August I rolled up to the pre-teaching in-service day at my new school feeling both excited and nervous. Those feelings were personified two days later when I stood at the door of my first class, waiting for the students to stand. How would they perceive me? Would they behave? Would they understand me? Would they participate in the speaking tasks? How was I going to remember all of their names?  I was full of doubts, but as soon as I stepped into the room, greeted the class and started off with a ‘Getting to know you’ icebreaker, those initial doubts evaporated. I left the room feeling energized and excited to be back in my own classroom, after a seven year gap.

Since then I have had a few great lessons, many ordinary lessons and some less than good lessons. Following each lesson I reflect on what went well, what could I have done differently, and did I actually meet the learning aims that I had set? I often think to myself, if I were observing this class I might have asked the teacher why she corrected that particular mistake and interrupted the student’s fluency, or, why didn’t she scaffold the task better, or had she noticed that boy in the back row, who was on his phone under the desk, during most of the speaking task.

I used to think…. But now I think… 

I used to think that if I am the best teacher I can be and plan my lessons really well, the students will respond accordingly. But I now think that this isn’t always enough.

I used to think that if I integrate technology effectively to enhance the learning outcomes, the students will be motivated and engaged. But I now think, that sometimes this is true, but quite often, it is not.

I used to think that through my teacher training I could have an impact on so many more students than I could in the classroom myself. But I now think that there is nothing more satisfying than engaging with the students themselves, in a large classroom, with all its challenges, and seeing everybody engaged and on task.

It is good to be back.

 

 

Pecha Kucha & the Power of (saying) ‘Yes’

 

 

Photograph courtesy of @oded1cedar
Photograph courtesy of @oded1cedar

Hosting the Pecha Kucha evening at the 7th International ETAI conference, 4-6 July 2016, provided me with the opportunity to source the international and local presenters, send them guidelines with a delivery deadline, and then review their presentations, to check they had met the criteria and had the automatic timings set correctly. The presenters in order of their presentations were:

  1. Marjorie Rosenberg – The Very Serious Side of ELT
  2. Penny Ur – Seven Misconceptions about English Teaching
  3. Mel Rosenberg (later hacked by Andy Curtis) – FRASPINATION – An internet bored game
  4. Amos Paran – Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays or Who’s Your Will?
  5. Leo Selivan – 10 cool words that would enhance English
  6. Hugh Dellar – 20 things in 20 years

When initially approached, some of the presenters immediately gave me an affirmative answer, “Yes, sure” or “Ok”,  whilst others were more hesitant. One presenter wrote to me saying, “If truth be told, I’d forgotten that I’d allowed myself to be talked into doing a Pecha Kucha!!! I’d been thinking about chickening out, but …. hey why not! Another presenter stated,  “At first I groaned – And then I thought about what I could do …. So, end of moan.  I am happy to do something. Am I mad? Yes, I am.”  The latter responses were similar to my own when Leo Selivan (Leoxicon) asked me to host the event. “I don’t think I can. I work full time. I’m studying etc.” I responded and then I  stopped myself and thought – If Leo is asking me then he must believe I can do it, and in the words of Richard Branson, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.” This year’s team of courageous ELT presenters demonstrated that they also subscribe to the Branson philosophy, and as a result each of the presenters put themselves out there, and we, the audience, benefited from their experience and humour, and had a great time.

Giving a Pecha Kucha is different from being a plenary or keynote speaker, it seems to fall much more into the ‘edutainment’spere, and the pressure on the presenter to ‘perform’ is not insignificant. For the host,  though, once the presenters have agreed to present and their presentations have been received and checked, all that is left to do is to choose the order of the presentations, upload them onto the computer in the auditorium, check the timings, and write some introductory notes about each speaker. There shouldn’t be any surprises.

However, on Tuesday 5 July, a few hours before the Pecha Kucha evening was due to start, I bumped into Mel Rosenberg and Andy Curtis,  who told me that they had had an idea that they wanted to run by me. “Andy is going to do my Pecha Kucha, sight unseen. What do you think?” I looked at Andy and asked him, “Do you know what Mel’s Pecha Kucha is about?”  “No, not a clue.” Andy responded. “Though it would be a great example of creativity, if I presented it without seeing it, don’t you think? Do we have your permission to do this crazy thing?” I thought to myself, Mel’s presentation is not clear to me, and I’ve seen the slides, so how is Andy going to present it? But then I thought, this could be an opportunity to do something different from the ‘traditional’ Pecha Kucha format. So I said, “Yes. I like the idea.” Andy looked a little surprised, as he hadn’t expected me to agree quite so quickly. And thus the first Pecha Kucha ‘Unseen Hack’ was born.

Video courtesy of @MelRosenberg

As teachers we are always putting our students on the spot in front of their peers, asking them questions, getting them to do presentations, prepare speeches and debates and complete numerous other language tasks, that many of them don’t feel comfortable doing. Our students usually have no choice but to say  ‘yes’, as the task often forms part of their summative assessment. As teachers/ELT professionals we must be role models for our students, and also be willing to put ourselves ‘out there’ in front of our peers, even when we may feel uncomfortable about the request, because saying ‘yes’, can be both challenging and rewarding. In fact, Emily Liscom (Education to the Core) would go even further, and say that by using the word ‘Yes’, to our students more than the word ‘No’, we might be surprised to experience improved classroom management and teaching strategies.

Thank you to each of the six/seven presenters for saying ‘yes’, when I approached you – each of you were courageous and inspirational, and are great role models to other ELT professionals and students across the globe.

Kung Fu Panda 3 – Grade 6 lesson plan 4 the end of the year

The end of the school year is Coming Soon, so here is a lesson for you to try with your students. As in previous years (2015 –The Happy Lesson, 2014 – The Way Back Home) I went into my son’s English class and gave a lesson.  This year I chose to use the Kung Fu Panda 3 movie trailer, to provide the students with an engaging and fun lesson which would both be accessible for all learners, and challenging for the more advanced students, whilst encouraging students to work in groups.

My son’s class were very excited about the lesson, they particularly enjoyed the Quizlet vocabulary set that I had prepared, and within the limited time created some cute Compare and Contrast Panda posters.

I have included the lesson plan and the PowerPoint for you to use with your classes.

I hope you and your students enjoy the lesson as much as I did.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.

 

 

 

The Past, The Present and The Future @The National Library of Israel

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“What is a book?  According to the Merriam Webster dictionary it is “a set of printed sheets of paper that are held together inside a cover.”

At this year’s ETAI winter event more than 50 English teachers were taken on a book discovery tour through the impressive National Library of Israel, in Jerusalem. The 120 year old library has a collection of more than 5,000,000 books, 2000 manuscripts, 700 personal archives and 30,000 hours of recordings which are available to the public, at no cost.

As a consequence of my experience I would like to share with you ’10 things I now know about the National Library of Israel’:

  1. The map room houses the most significant Holy Land maps’ collection in the world
  2. The Ardon Windows (pictured) represent Isaiah’s vision of eternal peace
  3. The oldest book in the museum is a Koran, dating back to the ninth century
  4. Israel’s ‘Book Law’ requires  two copies of all printed matter published in Israel to be deposited in the national library
  5. The museum is divided into 4 major collections: Judaica, Israel, Islam & the Middle East and the  Humanities
  6. Gershom Scholem loved to write notes in the margins of his books, which can be seen in the Gershom Scholem Library (comprising 35,000 items related to the Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism and Hassidism)
  7. ‘Ephemeral’ means transient or short-lived
  8. The Time Travel and European Ephemeral collections are made up of  letters, tickets, posters, postcards etc., and provide a rich resource of life and culture that can be used for engaging our students in the English classroom
  9. The library has an educational partnership with the UK,  available via an online site, and  includes lesson plans and worksheets for use in British classrooms, which could be relevant to our English language classrooms in Israel
  10. The National Library has a resource rich Facebook page in English which is regularly updated, and  provides authentic materials for English teaching.

So why should English teachers teach with Primary Resources? Karen Ettinger, Project Manager for Education at the NLI, explained that primary resources are motivating, relevant, make use of authentic material, enable students to practice 21 century skills, exercise their critical thinking and research skills, whilst connecting them with their past. So if you want to do some, or all of the above I strongly recommend a trip, either physical or virtual, to the National Library of Israel.

Thank you to all of the National Library staff who took us on a journey which made me think differently about the role of the library in the English language classroom today.

‘Toast to Change’ – World Teachers’ Day

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Today is International Teacher’s Day and last night I met one of the most inspiring teachers of our time. A person who shared the story of the 150 Freedom Writers from room 203, at Wilson High School, Long Beach California. The writers, who were destined for a  life of poverty, violence, teenage pregnancies and worse, were reached by Erin, and were given the opportunity to change the ending to their narrative through the writing of a diary. Erin turned classroom 203 into a home, a place where there was hope, a space where the students belonged, a space where they could dream of a better future, where they ultimately changed their future.

“I believe in the power of legacy and the power of words.” Erin explained. She described how she got through to her 150 fourteen year old English students by showing them that they were not ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’ or ‘nothing’, as they had always been told. She showed them what they had in common, firstly with each other, and then with the protagonists of the literature that she chose for them to read. The Rookie 23 year old teacher didn’t know how she was going to get her students to change, so she thought to herself, “If I can’t make them change then maybe Anne Frank can.” She added, ‘Anne Frank changed my students’ lives.”

Erin Gruwell, or Ms G, as her students called her, is currently on an American State Department sponsored tour of Israel, where she  is speaking to Jewish and Palestinian educators about the Freedom Writers Diary, and the  message of ‘change being possible.’
Last night I was inspired by Erin’s empathy, passion, energy and sheer humanity, I was inspired by Betty Pollack (pictured above), a Dutch Holocaust Survivor, whose brother Jack Pollack met with, mentored and inspired the freedom writers. Betty’s energy and passion for life and her story moved us all.
Last night I met Erin Gruwell who said “what we are going to talk about tonight, is the world as it should be.”  This is “the story of those kids who put down their fists, put down guns, and picked up a pen, and just like Anne Frank, left a legacy.”
 
 Don’t miss the soon to be released: ‘The Freedom Writers – Stories from an Undeclared War‘ (Documentary)

Introduction to Learning Disabilities 1

I recently signed up for some college classes to get myself out of the office and back in the classroom as a student. Due to my heavy work load I decided to take it easy and to start with just one class this semester. I also realised that I needed a F2F class, as I was missing the human interaction of a classroom. I have taken numerous online courses over the last few years so knew what both settings have to offer.

Introduction to Learning Disabilities, Thursday evenings, 18:00-19:30, Levinsky College: The lecturer, Ahrona Korman Gvaryahu, filled the class with her energy, passion and ability to keep the students’ interest despite the late hour. Ahrona made it clear that the course would be focused on the LD students and on their parents, and not on the teachers. Ahrona didn’t use a PowerPoint, she talked and showed us two YouTube videos. We were given a pre-viewing task and were simply encouraged to actively watch. The inspiring Rita Pierson, bowled me away with her insights and understanding of learning and teaching. “Every kid needs a champion”, is a must watch for all educators.

The underlying message of this first class was that the human connection that we make with our students is the critical component for successful teaching. “The teacher is the glue.” I couldn’t agree more and can’t wait for next week’s class.

The ETAI Teacher Training & Development SIG is launched

 

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It isn’t often that you get an opportunity to be present at the start of something new, something that has the power to change the way we think about teacher training, about the proficiency of non-native ELT teachers, and about the role and impact of research upon English teachers in the classroom. Today, at the ETAI pre-conference Teacher Training and Development, inaugural Special Interest Group, I was privileged to witness the start of a movement for change.

Dr. Lindsey Shapiro Steinberg, opened the day with questions regarding the recruiting of talent, and whether need necessitates compromise. What is a good ELT practitioner? What level of proficiency is required by English teachers? What is learning, and how is learning assessed?  Following Dr. Shapiro Steinberg’s opening Dr. Debbie Lifshitz spoke about ‘Shaking Up the Israeli Conventions of Teacher Training.’ With statistics to demonstrate the challenges faced by Non-native English speaking teacher (NESTS) trainees, regarding proficiency at entry and exit of teacher training programmes, and the challenges that lay ahead. Dr. Lifshitz suggested that proficiency levels of NESTS are critical for teacher retention in the schools, in a system where teachers are aging, and more than 40% of newly qualified English teachers never even enter the school system upon graduation.

Following the morning presentation participants divided into 3 discussion groups, Proficiency, Methodology and Linguistics, and discussed changes that could be taken  by each of these areas, to positively impact upon  the proficiency of future NESTS . (Watch the ETAI website for a summary of each group’s suggestions.)

The afternoon session was expertly led by Professor Penny Ur who discussed ‘Research and the language teacher.’ Professor Ur asserted that “Research is not the main source of teacher knowledge, but it can enrich it.” She stated that it contributes to teaching in three ways by:

  1. Producing evidence, that can be used to create practical principles for teaching
  2. Providing new insights / information that would not have occurred to teachers otherwise
  3. Contradicting inaccuracies in methodology or firmly held theoretical beliefs

Professor Ur provided numerous examples of why research is regarded so highly by the academia and ministries of education, and yet is often seen as trivial, irrelevant or impractical by teachers in the field. The sheer quantity of literature is overwhelming, and therefore needs to be read selectively and critically. Professor Ur suggested that if we want preset and inset teachers to read research there is a need for ‘mediators’, chiefly teacher trainers, who can mediate the research on their behalf.

The day closed with an open discussion led by Professor Penny Ur and a thirst for more discussion and dare I say, action.  “Professional Development takes place through professional conversation.” Garton and Richards (2011) Today was truly a day of Professional Development at the inaugural Teacher Training & Development SIG.

 

 

The Happy Lesson

happy collage It is always fun for a DOS to get back into the classroom and give a lesson to a class of young learners. Once a year I go into my son’s class and give them a lesson that aims to engage the students, use all four skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing) encourage group work and integrate technology.

Today’s lesson did all of the above in only 45 minutes. Pharrell Williams’  ‘Happy’ song was the inspiration. The students loved the Muzzy ‘Word Play’ website and were excited to see their class poem come alive literally on the screen in from of them.

I have included here the powerpoint, the lesson plan, the worksheet and the video clips for you to use.

When I asked the students why I am happy in the fourth slide, one of the students said “Because you finished the marathon.” Another student said: “Because of your man.”

Both answers were correct.

The Happy Lesson Plan

The Happy Lesson Worksheet

I hope you too enjoy ‘The Happy Lesson”.

My favourite Apps for ELT – Free and easy (with a little practice)

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  1. Quizlet – for learning vocabulary items, lexical chunks, collocations and so much more.You can create a class, and sets of items (no more than 20 items is optimal), you can use synonyms, definitions or translate the terms ( supports most languages including Arabic), add images and even use it for comprehension tasks. It is easy to share with your students, and you can encourage them to make and share their sets. No need for students to sign up. See Sandy Millin‘s detailed guide here .
  2. WhatsApp for creating class groups to share images, texts and recordings – this is the most important App of them all as all the URL addresses can be shared with your students via your class group.
  3. Answergarden for brainstorming, checking students prior knowledge and getting short (20 characters) answers. No need for students to sign up.
  4. Mentimeter for brainstorming, mind mapping, allows for longer answers. I like the visual features. No need for students to sign up.
  5. Linoit – Collaborative board for sharing ideas, images and videos via sticky notes. Easy for students to use. IPhone users now need to download the app in advance to see the canvas (collaborative board), which is a recent and less convenient change. No need for Android students to sign up.
  6. Photofunia for creating fun posters, billboards and other images on Smarphones, using photos from the Smartphone gallery.
  7. Muzy for creating photo collages or storyboards.
  8. Canva for creating Infographics.
  9. Keep-Calm-O-Matic  for creating Keep Calm posters.
  10. Google Translate for instant translations and the Miriam Webster dictionary  app for dictionary work.

All of the apps in this post are free and have websites where you may feel more comfortable creating your language task than on your mobile device. You can then copy the URL address and make it tiny with goo.gl which generates a QR code, your students can then scan the code with a QR Code Reader app, which takes them straight to the task you have created for them.

When using Smartphones in the class always ensure that the use of the app meets the learning aims of the class, and that you have tried it yourself on a mobile device, and preferably get somebody else to try it too.

For those of you who attended my presentation Mobile learning – empowering teachers and engaging students here is the promised powerpoint presentation.

Tweeting 2 Learn & Learning 2 Tweet @ IATEFL2015

@twitter
‘Engagement’ was one of the keywords that understandably cropped up again and again in presentations at this year’s IATEFL. This was also the conference where I transitioned from being more of a passive learner via Twitter (following other educators to learn about new ideas and tools) to an active learner/user.
As a consequence of actively tweeting from sessions I was engaging in the presentations in a new way. I found myself trying to summarise the speakers’ points and tweet concisely and interestingly. I was happy when people retweeted my tweets and found myself checking the #IATEFL hashtag to see what was hot or not, and what I had missed in other sessions.
One of the best Twitter experiences for me was when I finished my presentation on the last day of the conference and discovered to my joy that three people had been tweeting from my session. This felt like affirmation, that maybe I did have something worthwhile to say after all. I also wonder if my tweeting during the conference had led to people choosing to hear me speak when they could have gone to the IATEFL signature event with David Crystal, or one of the other 18 sessions that were running simultaneously.
A few thoughts and lessons learned:
  1. Use relevant hashtags so that others can see your tweets, i.e. #IATEFL #ELT #edtech #eltchat
  2. Look for the speaker’s Twitter account in advance of their presentation in order to include them in your tweets
  3. RT – retweet tweets that you like, identify with and want to share
  4. Thank others for tweeting from your sessions, and for retweeting your tweets
  5. The conference continues well after it is over with the blog summaries being posted on twitter
  6. As it is s so affirming when someone tweets from your sessions, why not tweet things your students say that will resonate with the rest of the class?
  7. It is a great way to check students’ understanding of a lesson by asking them to tweet what they now know as a consequence of the lesson
Although only a couple of years ago Tweeting seemed to me to be abstract and not relevant to me as an educator, I am now a twitter convert. I have learned so much from following educators on twitter especially Edtech and #eltchat educators, that I can’t imagine what kind of educator I’d be without it.