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Teacher is a DJ

Does any job include so many roles as a teacher’s job?

Have a look at this ingenious image of 20 possible teacher roles made by Stacy Bonino for BusyTeacher.org:

teacher-roles

How many roles have you played in your teaching career?

Can you think of any other roles?

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As for me, when I look back at my almost ten years of teaching practice I can say that I’ve played a considerable number of roles from the above list. I never chose in advance which role to play in the next lesson. Very often it wasn’t even my conscious choice in the lesson: I just responded to a given situation in the best (in my opinion) possible and appropriate way.

Naturally, some roles I like more than others.

Apparently, I play some roles better than others.

And, honestly speaking, I sometimes don’t feel like playing any of these roles at all.

As for other roles, I can say for sure that there are much more teacher roles than those listed in the above image. At least there is one I really enjoy performing. And as you have already guessed by the title of this blogpost, this is the role of a DJ.

Yes, Teacher is a DJ, too🙂

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If you know Jason R. Levine (@FluencyMC), I’m sure you will agree with me that Jason is the most brilliant example of a teacher being a DJ. He is inimitable in his ability to mix rap rhythms with English language items making English learning so fun and energetic!

If you don’t know Jason yet, it’s time to get aquainted with his superb music vidoes for English language learners. Here is one of my favourites: http://youtu.be/iOqlPXvnG34

Got hooked?🙂 Check out tons of other Jason’s videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/collolearn

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As you may know well, music can be an incredibly effective way in teaching a language. I’m sure, you have already tried this or that way to incorporate music into your lessons. However, here is a simple guidence for you on how to music and songs in ESL lesson:

http://www.ehow.com/how_4493586_use-songs-music-esl-lessons.html

And here you will find a huge list (50 points!!!) on various ways music and songs can be exploited in the classroom. Surprisingly, music can be used for discipline matters!

http://fr.slideshare.net/ddeubel/50-ways-to-use-music-in-the-english-language-classroom-18755901

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My favourite way to use music in my lessons, which actually inspired me to write this blogpost, is to use music or songs as the background while students are doing some tasks.

In fact, it wasn’t my idea. I borrowed it from my teacher of English at Oxford House College in London. At first, I was surprised when she put on some music after giving us a task to work on in pairs. It was so unusual as I had never seen any teacher in my school or university use music this way. But I promptly realized how great this idea is!

First of all, music takes tension away! It helps students to relax but at the same time to focus on the activity. (Don’t you listen to music while doing something else? For example, just right now, while I’m typing this post I’m listening to the music of which I’ll speak a bit later🙂 )

Secondly, music creates some noise which makes students feel less shy to speak. Otherwise, students sometimes feel embarrassed when they hear their voices echoing in the quite room.

Finally, music or songs can create a specific mood which best suits the task or part of the lesson. In fact, this is when our skills as DJs come into play!🙂 And this is what I particularly like!🙂

I really love looking through the music playlist on my iPhone and choosing the right music to play. Everything matters: the type of the task, the part of the lesson (the beginning, the middle, or the end), what mood I would like to put my students in, whether or not a music piece has some lyrics, and finally, the music itself (it’s rhythm, tempo, tune etc).

I think that music you put on in class as the background should be light and easy and should have little lyrics. But at the same time it must be sonorous and catchy. Such music will not dominate the classroom or pull students’ attention to itself but will create a lively and pleasant atmosphere in the class.

So I believe it’s highly useful to make a music playlist on your mobile device which would consist of music of different types and genres. Using only one and the same piece of music is a bit boring. So a varied playlist is a guarantee that your lessons will become more surprising and tuneful, and you, in turn, will become a better DJ!🙂

Below are some of the example music pieces I use as the background:

  1. Isao Tomita “The Sea Named Solaris” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqPSFv6ZUac
  2. Ewan Dobson “Time 2” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXqPYte8tvc
  3. Frank Duval ‘Solitude” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbzAa8V6xyg
  4. Pink Floyd “Terminal Frost” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNWsQXYSsJQ
  5. Pink Floyd “Learning to Fly” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCB_INs2E24
  6. Enya “May it be” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_upDME6MwPY
  7. Enya “Orinoco Flow” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTrk4X9ACtw
  8. Kate Bush “Bertie” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBRJeD2Y1nY
  9. Yann Tiersen “La Valse d’Amelie” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0c6cpscjb0
  10. Lindsey Stirling “Crystallize” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHjpOzsQ9YI
  11. The Glitch Mob “Drive It Like You Stole It” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kON_KRmFRKk
  12. DJ Smash “Moscow Never Sleeps” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDm3GdDKt2w
  13. Eric Prydz “Call on me” (surely, I never show the video🙂 ) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQSYo_pC-QA
  14. Uniting Nations “Out of Touch” (also, the video is never shown🙂 ) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-Xz8aLuD7Y
  15. Urban Cookie Collective “The Key The Secret” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt91rG311OM
  16. Michael Zager Band “Let’s All Chant” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-VlM_alVkY
  17. HBO Boxing Original Theme Song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSlDpLql1Hc
  18. Dropkick Murphys “I’m shipping to Boston” (yes, even this, even though it’s loud and has too much lyrics😉 ) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSlDpLql1Hc
  19. The Prodigy “No Good. Start the Dance” (yes, sometimes even this🙂 ) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svJvT6ruolA
  20. And the crowing track on my playlist is surely my favourite – Yelle “Comme Un Enfant” (CENOB1TE Remix) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT_M91s0lrk

Well, of course, this list is no way exhaustive! Moreover, it’s being renewed all the time: some tracks come, some go. But you are kindly invited to treat yourselves to the tracks on my playlist!🙂 I hope you will like some🙂

And to round off this blogpost, here is the short musical movie I was listening to while writing this blogpost. It’s called God is a DJ, but so are teachers🙂

Enjoy!🙂

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2015 in General, Miscellaneous

 

On Blogging

First of all, I would like to thank Sirja and Zenya for their inspiring posts on blogging. After reading them I couldn’t but take up the challenge, too. In fact, I wanted to write about blogging a long while ago but kept on postponing for the reasons I’m going to discuss in this post. But now with renewed energy and motivation and all doubts set aside, here I am with the story of my blogging.

I should admit, and you can actually see it from the number of the posts on my blog, that I don’t write much. So you may ask me, Why I blog? What blogging means to me? Why I keep writing every time and then? And what stops me from writing more?

I started my blog about two years ago and, at first, I thought it was just cool to have a blog of my own. But once I started writing I immediately realized that a blog is a great opportunity to make my voice heard. Through my blog, I can share my teaching experience with other teachers and I can tell them what actually I’m doing and what is happening in my classroom.

But in a while, when the first euphoria dispersed, I started writing less and less, and, finally, I found myself in the grip of doubts. I was plagued with questions like these:

1. Who do I write my posts for?
2. Aren’t my posts just nothing but stating the obvious?
3. Where can I take the material that would be informative, useful and fresh for my readers?
4. Isn’t blogging just self-admiration and boasting?
5. Why does it feel so embarrassing to tell others about my new blog post? Isn’t it some sort of self-advertising?
6. Why are there so few people who like or comment on my blog posts?
7. Am I doing it wrong? If yes, what should I change? The content? The style?
8. Why do I actually feel reluctant about writing a new blog post? Why does it feel so overwhelming and frustrating?

To blog or not to blog?Well, I still don’t have answers to most of these questions, but recently I found out what was actually blocking me from writing. I started noticing that nagging feeling I got whenever I thought of writing a new blog post. The task seemed to me arduous and offputting. It was clear: it wasn’t the lack of ideas that was stopping me. (In fact, I’ve got a bag fully packed with notes with ideas for blogposts.) It was something else that averted me from writing.

After some reflection, I came to realize that it was the amount of time and energy I spent on writing a single post. Indeed, it took me no less then five hours to complete a post, and it always felt as if I was laboriously cutting it in stone like a sculptor chipping off bits of granite. Not surprising, that the whole task looked monstrous, and the sheer thought of it drained all energy and motivation out of me.

So I decided I needed to do something with the way I write posts. I needed to optimize the process. I usually write posts this way: I think the ideas through, I write and rewrite a draft on paper and then I type it on computer and copy it onto the blog. I like writing down my ideas on paper. This old-fashioned way stimulates my creativity and thinking abilities best of all. A blank page inspires me to reflect and create while I feel totally blank in front of a blank computer screen. (Talk of different types of blank!🙂 ) So this part of writing is no problem to me. But it all changes when it comes to typing the draft on the computer. What a tediuos, mind-numbing and time-consuming task it is! And this is the real huge granite stumbling block on my way to writing more! Gosh! How much I hate it!

Eureka!

So it became clear to me: I needed to do something about typing drafts on the computer. And all of the sudden, the solution came to me like a flash of lightning!

Speech-to-text apps!!!

I can just dictate my drafts to the computer instead of painstakingly typing them! And then copy-paste the text onto my blog, proof-read it, edit it and – voilà! – the post is ready!🙂

So this is exactly what I did when I was writing the previous blog post! It was all fun reading my text aloud and practicing English pronunciation on the way.

I used the Dragon Dictation app for iPhone. I dictated bits of text to it, edited them in the app and then copy-pasted them into Google Doc app where I did proof-reading and some additional editing. After that, I copy-pasted the ready-made draft into the WordPress app and hit the publish button! So simple and easy!

However, I have to admit that the WordPress app isn’t very convenient for editing texts. So it’s still better to insert media and edit the layout of the post on the webpage.

But nevertheless, the process of actual writing of a blog post has become much easier and more pleasant to me. So I hope that this optimization will result in more post on my blog this year!

And look, January hasn’t finished yet, and I’ve already got two posts on my blog which amounts to two thirds of last year’s total number of posts. That’s an achievement for me! Whooohooo!!!🙂

To blog! - That is the answer.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in ELT Reflections

 

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No response

How much time does it take you to feel and know the atmosphere in a new group of students? Surely, we feel atmosphere straight in the first lesson but the real knowing comes a little later, maybe, in a couple of lessons or so.

During this time the students and the teacher are testing the waters, they get to know each other better and develop a suitable communication style. Needless to say, a teacher’s personality greatly influences the atmosphere in the classroom. However, the atmosphere largely depends on the students and their relationships within the group. So, it’s not surprising, that with some groups we, teachers, feel more comfortable than with the others. So to say, you unmistakenly know when you on the same wavelength with your students, and your communication is going smoothly.

It is always enjoyable and energising to work in such an atmosphere. However, we don’t always have groups like this. Very often, we have to invest time and energy into bridging up a communication gap with our students.

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I haven’t had any communication glitches with my students for a long while. Even so, I can’t even remember any case when I had any miscommunication with groups of students. Of course, there have always been some troublemakers, but these were certain individuals not the whole groups of students.

But last semester I came across a surprising and seemingly new to me situation. It wasn’t the lack of feedback as such. My students did respond to my questions and tasks but only if I asked them directly and personally.

IMG_0653

The problem was that my students lacked the willingness or at least readiness to respond and participate. Whenever I ask them a question to reflect and to express their ideas on, or any other simple or challenging question, all I saw was downcast eyes, dull facial expressions and dead silence. With their body language the students cried out to me, “Not me! Not me! Don’t ask me!”

It once culminated in one of my students asking me back, “Do you want us to answer your question?”

At first I was puzzled, I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to elicit responses from my students. But one day, when I asked them just another simple question I looked up at them just to see them all ill at ease, perched at their desks like small little sparrows on a rainy day. I couldn’t help laughing at the their look! Then I explained to them why I was laughing. I told them that I could understand what was happening and described what they looked like at that moment. I assured them that I wasn’t asking questions for form’s sake and that I was truly interested in their ideas. They looked up at me, smiled and relaxed a bit. I think this was the moment when the ice broke.

I can’t say that the students became exceptionally cooperative and willing to participate in the lesson, but I can admit there was much more response from them since then.

Who or What to blame?

When I was reflecting on the causes of the situation I had a suspicion that my students didn’t like me or felt very indifferent towards me as a personality. If this was the case, there was very little I could do to change the situation and make them like me (or could I?).

But later in the semester I had a chance to clearly see that my personality or my teaching style was not the real cause of the problem.

Once a student of mine was making a presentation in front of the rest of the class. He started his presentation with a question just to see how much his listeners knew about his topic and also to grasp the attention. To his frustration he didn’t receive any answer: everybody just lowered their heads and cast their eyes down. The speaker’s frustration lasted for a couple of seconds while he was waiting for a response. Not having received any, he addressed to his fellow student by his name who confusedly mumbled something in response. Finally, on getting at least some feedback, the speaker hastily went on with his presentation never asking his audience any questions again.

This incident was enough for me to understand that I wasn’t the reason why my students refrained from cooperation as they reacted to their fellow student’s question just in the same way as they reacted to mine. Clearly, there were some other reasons for the lack of response from students.

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So, Who or What is to blame, then?

A brief note: Here I am going to speak exclusively about Russian educational situation as I have no experience of any formal schooling outside Russia. However, you might find some similarities with what you have to deal with in your countries.

So once I realised that the lack of response was due to some reasons not related to my personality I tried to figure out what the real causes were.

And here is what I thought.

I believe students didn’t respond because …

1. they didn’t have anything to say. This could be blamed on the teacher who asked too complicated or irrelevant questions. But I’m sure this wasn’t the main reason as I was asking students questions of various complexity while the lack of response was almost the same in all the cases.

2. students are intimidated to speak out. This, I believe, is the main reason in my situation. My students came from the same schooling system as me, so I can easily put myself into their shoes. I know from my sometimes bitter personal experience that learners’ initiative is not welcome at schools and, even more so, is sometimes punished.

3. also, students grow to be afraid to express an opinion of their own or to give any answer it at all because they are afraid of making a mistake. And mistake is considered something shameful and unacceptable especially if it is made in public.

In this connection, I have to say that a widespread tradition to immediately give a mark to a student for whatever they say in the lesson is counter-productive and even harmful. This way learners are inhibited to think freely and imaginatively, they fear to be immediately labelled wrong and punished with a bad mark.

So, to avoid the nasty feeling of being publicly humiliated, students learn the worst lesson they can be possibly taught at school: it is better sit still and keep a low profile.

Not surprising, that we are very often baffled and alarmed at how passive, indifferent and inert our fellow citizens are. Sorry, but we all have been through school with the its carrots-and-sticks (mostly sticks, though) system.

f-school-letter-grade

What to do?

Below is what I think is essential to do if we really want to see more open-minded, confident and proactive people around. Of course, the list is not exhaustive and any other ideas are most welcome!

1. Friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the class where students feel comfortable and know that they matter and their voice is heard and appreciated. I am sure you don’t knew to be convinced of this: this prerequisite is self evident and fundamental to all the other measures. However, not every teacher shares this view. I remember two of my schoolteachers – the Russian language teacher and the teacher of English – who could serve as the blatant example of how teaching should not be done. They both were exceptionally stringent and unfriendly, reserved and distant, prescriptive and gloomy. The sheer thought of their lessons made me sick. Needless to say, these teachers’ lessons were all painand a complete waste of time for me: I wasn’t learning anything there except for the fear.

2. Lots of the whole class mingling and pair or small-group interactive activities that can take stress and tension away. They are also the salvation for timid and vulnerable students who are scared to be the centre of attention and speak in public.

3. Problem-solving, inventive and imaginative activities and tasks which would foster imagination, critical and creative thinking.

4. Individual and team work through which students can learn to cooperate and work together towards a common goal, share responsibility and try out various roles within a social group. Also, individual work is necessary for learners to elaborate their own opinion and style and be ready to stand up for their own viewpoint.

5. A larger set of various assessment techniques should be put into practice too. This will help to avoid the too straightforward and imperative assessment which learners fear so much. Click on the following link to find a rich collection of alternative assessment techniques you can try and use in your classroom.

I believe the alternative way of assessment and activities like the above could be incorporated in lessons on any subject: from chemistry and maths to languages and history.

All these measures may help teachers to create a comfortable and stimulating environment for learners’ creativity and initiative to flourish. This might not work every time and with every student, but this will surely help students to relax, open up and respond. So I hope that we will see much more raised hands and wideopen eyes looking straight into our eyes.

For further reading I recommend Luba Vangelova’s article which goes in line with my blog post and develops some ideas expressed here.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in ELT Reflections

 

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Once Upon a Time … (Lesson Shells) – Part 1

A lesson shell is a romantic name I give to stories and games that a teacher and their learners can create around a given grammar rule. In a grammar story or game, the main heroes and heroines are the grammar items and the general plot of the story is based on the grammar rule. Such stories and games help enormously to make grammar instruction easier and more fun for young learners and primary and secondary schoolchildren. Children start playing with the trickiest aspect of the new language thus overcoming the fear of grammar and vividly remembering the rules by associating them with the stories.

Just to give you the taste of a grammar story, here is the example of a story I created to explain why English verbs have various forms in the Past Simple. The story is called The Town of Verbs.

Once upon a time there was a town of verbs. Verbs lived happily in their beautiful town. However, they always lived in the present. There was no past for the verbs: every day was a new day in the town of verbs. But one day two little verbs – a brother and a sister – found an old trunk in their grandfathers’ house. Engraved on the lid of the trunk, there were two mysterious letters: ED. The little verbs got very curious to know what was inside of this huge trunk. So they opened it and all of the sudden, out of the trunk flew the memories about the past. They flew out of the window and spread in the air. All the verbs in the town could feel the scent and involuntary breathed it in. To their surprise, they started to recall their past! Their memories came back to them. Some verbs, like “play”, accepted their memories as part of their life and took them in their stride (played). Some verbs, like “try”, were very glad to recall their past because those memories, like a candle in a dark room, lit up their lives with warmth and happiness (tried). Some verbs, like “stop”, got very angry and frustrated at their memories (perhaps those memories were painful and unpleasant), so they tried to block them and build a wall between their memories and themselves (stopped). Some verbs, like “bring”, changed out of all recognition once they remembered their past life (brought). But some verbs, like “cut” or “let”, didn’t changed at all because they were very little kids and didn’t have memories about the past (cut, let).

Town_of_Verbs

As you can see the story gives the learner a clear image of various types of verb endings. Later on, you can go into more detail explaining to your learner how to identify the verbs which belong to one of the five groups, but this wouldn’t be difficult for your learners as the graphic foundation has been laid.

The idea of a grammar story or game (which I later called lesson shells) came to me absolutely accidentally. Some years ago I was teaching an 8-year-old girl – Katya – on the one-to-one basis. One day when I came to the lesson, Katya’s mother told me that the girl had got a low grade at school for the dictation on irregular verbs. She asked me to practice these verbs with Katya as she was going to have another dictation the next day. So there I was with a frustrated mother, distressed learner, my painstakingly prepared materials going down the drain and absolutely no materials to teach and practice those damn irregular verbs. What could I say to the mother in such a situation? Only what most teachers commonly say: “Yes, sure! We will do it!” The mother left, I look back at the sheepishly looking little girl, sighed at her miserable look and started talking to her. I felt so sorry for the girl that I began with expressing my sympathy for her situation and by putting all the blame on the irregular verbs. I told her that she was not guilty of that low grade, that this was totally the guilt of the verbs that (what naughty verbs!) had attacked her all of the sudden! Katya gladly agreed with me. She was already more agitated than before. Then I continued by saying that these verbs should be punished for what they had done and, as all criminals, they should be put in prison. At this point Katya was all ready to take revenge and punish those horrible verbs. This way I absolutely unknowingly won my learner’s full attention and assistance. Also, the form of the condolence I offered to my learner (the idea of the verbs-offenders) prompted the theme of the following activities we did to learn and practice the irregular verbs.

So what we did went as follows. I turned into Senior Police Officer and Katya was Junior Police Officer. Our first task in chasing and capturing the offenders was to make the composite sketches of the criminals so that it was easier for Junior Police Officer to traces them. What we did was to copy the verbs and their past forms on slips of cards. Then I collected the cards, shuffled them and spread face down all around the carpet. Next, Katya, Junior Police Officer, had to chase the verbs. All we did was the traditional matching game. But for Katya it wasn’t just another classroom game, it was the real mission! When all the verbs together with their accomplices (the infinitive + Past Simple form) had been collected, Katya reported to me, Senior Police Officer, about the successfully accomplished operation and demonstrated the verbs-offenders to me by naming them all in their pairs. Then on a piece of paper, I drew an improvised prison cells where the verbs and their accomplices were put. So basically, we made a detective story out of a simple classroom activity. The learner was much more motivated to do the activities and exercises I later prepared for the next lesson because she was not just doing familiar classroom tasks but playing a game where she had a specific role and mission. It was fun for both my learner and me.

Irregular_Detective_Story

Just by looking at the above examples of a grammar story and a grammar game you can see that such stories and games can be used both for introducing and practicing grammar. However, some rules should be followed when making up grammar stories and games. I will dwell on these rules a little longer in my next post on the lesson shells.

(To be continued)

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Kids

 

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Shall we self-study?

The idea of self-study groups isn’t a novelty. This learning technique has been tried and tested for centuries (at least, I’m convinced to believe so). I also believe that few will question the really he learning potential of self-study groups.

The advantages of self-study groups are self-obvious: higher motivations of participants for learning; the increased sense of responsibility for one’s part of a task; the inspiring feeling of togetherness and being one team; the genuine interest in what participants are studying; better understanding and acquisition of the material as one has to teach it to others; and, the last but not the least, extensive practice of communicative skills. Not surprising that all these advantages may lead to better learning outcomes.

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However, as it is always the case in our world, the self-study group method of learning has its drawbacks too. The most evident disadvantage is the possible lack of the general direction of studies. Also, learners in a self-study group may stray from the main topic and get lost in details not being able to see the wood for the trees.

All these aspects considered, I believe it’s relatively easy to overcome the drawbacks of self-study group learning by introducing the time limit and some general plan of studies for a given group of learners.

To see how self-study groups have been used to boost students’ motivation, you can watch this video. The video shows high school students who speak about their experience of working in self-study groups.

Unfortunately, I have never had a chance to be part of self-study group myself and, to my own surprise, I have never tried this technique within all nine years of my teaching practice. So last week I decided to give it a go and see what would happen. Below you will find my observations and reflections on my experience of self-study groups of university students.

For the past three weeks, my students and I have been working on public skills and presentations skills, in particular. We have discussed some aspects of speaking in public; we have studied some practical techniques of delivering a speech and interacting with the audience; we have watched a model presentation and my students have made presentations of their own. However, it was clear to me that I would be able to cover all the aspects of public speaking within the rigid time limit we work in (one 90-min lesson a week): I literally wouldn’t have time to actually teach, discuss and practice the techniques in the classroom. So it dawned on me to give each student an individual question related to presentation skills as part of homework and to ask students to crowd source information for these questions to share it with other students the next lesson. The result exceeded all my expectations.

First of all, each and every student was ready with their part of homework. Secondly, some of the students had brought with them not only some texts but also some visuals like graphs, pictures and slides to illustrate their question. Thirdly, after being left on their own, my students promptly overcame some confusion at the unfamiliar setting and started working together, successfully managing the order of speakers, sharing information, asking and answering each other’s questions. In fact, they were literally learning from each other. I was really amazed that when I could stand back and gave my students almost complete autonomy, they were coping pretty well and learning was happening without my actual involvement.

However, the experiment wouldn’t be a real experiment if I didn’t introduce some variations in the way the study groups worked.

In my first group of students there was no leader assigned to steer the group in a particular direction, track the order of speakers and manage the time of the session. Students were all responsible for the way their group worked. I think that the absence of a leader significantly influenced the work of the group: the session looked more discussion-like and relaxed, while the atmosphere in the group was both informal and respectful. Students were doing their best to speak and put their ideas clearly, they were listening to each other more attentively and were eager to answer any questions. This was a group of people who were truly sharing knowledge and learning from each other. However, although the work of the group was managed well, timing was a bit of a problem because there was nobody to track the time and no one thought it was necessary.

In the second group of mine, I assigned a student to be the leader. His responsibilities included: managing the time and the order of speakers. Needless to say, that this group was better managed, at least in terms of time. However, the general atmosphere in this group differed from that in the previous group. Surely, I understand that the atmosphere in a group depends largely on the people comprising it, but the way the work of the group is organized comes into play too. So when I was observing my students in the second group, I had a feeling that they subconsciously reacted to their leader as if he was a teacher or any other sort of authority. The presence of any kind of authority changes the way people feel or interact in a group, so, in many cases, I noticed that the leader was the connecting-link in the conversations, that students felt less relaxed and less willing to contribute to the discussion, and that they were reluctant to ask questions, to express their opinion, or to add any extra information and take part in the conversation. In fact, there wasn’t a discussion as such, the whole session resembled in many ways a teacher-centered (in this case, leader-centered) lesson. It looked as if students were solely anxious to tell, retell or even to read out their bit of information and call it a day.

This was the first time I had had my students work in a self-study groups setting, and it was only natural for my students to feel some discomfort and awkwardness. So there is no doubt that more observations are needed to draw up more distinct conclusions on how different settings influence the work of a self-study group.

However, what I can say with certainty is what a teacher should and shouldn’t do during the session of the self-study group. First of all, the teacher should help students learn how to cooperate and self-study: students need to feel at ease with working together. They should learn to respect and appreciate each others’ contribution and opinions. Students need to learn not to be afraid or shy to express their ideas and ask questions. Also, it would be beneficial for students to learn to feel responsible for their own learning and stop being docile consumers of whatever their teacher telling them. Students should get the feeling of being independent and active participants of the learning process. Secondly, while conducting the self-study group session, a teacher should sit somewhere at the back of the classroom or leave the classroom in order to come back later to see what result the students have come up with. I would like to note here that the latter option can be chosen only when the learners have learnt to work in a self-study group and are quite confident and willing to work on the task without teacher’s supervision. When a teacher is present at the self-study group session, they should avoid any eye-contact with the students and be solely focused on taking notes of what is happening in the classroom. The eye-contact should be avoided to make students feel that they are on their own and should speak to each other instead of constantly looking back at the teacher for feedback. This will help students to become more self-reliable and start concentrating on the discussion.

I strongly believe that introducing self-study groups in one’s teaching is beneficial both for teachers, as it brings variety in the classroom routine, and to students, as they become more autonomous learners. So far, I can say that this was a really promising and inspiring experience. I will definitely use this method of teaching in the future.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2014 in General, Young Adults

 

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The Right for a Mistake

Even after almost nine years of teaching, I still feel somewhat frustrated when something goes wrong in the lesson.

I strongly believe that a good lesson should be informative, dynamic, engaging and very well-paced.

Unfortunately, not all of my lessons live up to my idea of a good lesson.

I feel guilty when my students are just doing the tasks I gave them without being actively involved in the task. For me this is the sign that I haven’t thought the task through thoroughly enough to make it appealing to my students, to make my students want to do it.

I love when my students are leaving the classroom brimming with enthusiasm and humming with heated discussions we started in the lesson. Whenever my students are satisfied with the way they spent their time in my lesson, I feel happy and satisfied too. I know I’ve done a good job.

But is it possible to make each and every lesson this satisfying and inspiring? What do I need to do for that?

Do I need to grow up to some certain level of professionalism to be able to design only successful lessons? Or do I need to teach myself to be more sensitive to my students’ mood? Or do I need to spend even more time getting ready for the lessons?

Or is this sort of perfection unattainable and unrealistic? Is it just a haunting dream of an inveterate perfectionist?

I know too well, mistakes are inevitable and necessary for growth. I have heard many times before people say that in each mistake there is a learning opportunity. I’m very well prepared for that. This is not actually what I’m worried about. All I just want to be sure about is whether it is possible to make fewer and fewer mistakes as you learn and develop?

Question Mark Black

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in ELT Reflections

 

Tag Christmas gifts and bloggers!

This is the Tag-a-Blog Challenge going around the blogosphere! A fun chain of posts which include 11 random facts about yourself, answers to 11 questions posed by another blogger who tagged you and your 11 questions to other 11 bloggers you tag in your post.

Looks like a chain letter?! Yes, why not? It’s merry Christmas time – let’s have fun!

What are the rules? They are simple:

1. Introduce the person who tagged you.

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.

3. Answer the 11 questions posed by the blogger who tagged you.

4. List other 11 bloggers.

5. Put your 11 questions to the bloggers you nominated.

Let me start by introducing the person who tagged me:

Sophia Mavridi

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Sophia is a senior EFL teacher and a Teacher Trainer.  She is a regular presenter at international EFL Conferences and is currently working on her Masters degree in EdTech & TESOL with the University of Manchester doing research on technology integration in educational contexts. Sophia is a dedicated teacher, a wonderful speaker, and a charming person.

11 random facts about myself:

1. Those who are connected with me via Facebook, know very well that astronomy is my life-long fascination. Yes, I’m deeply interested in everything concerning cosmos and space exploration. I’ve got a telescope and I adore making some amateur night sky observations.

2. My current favourite author is Arthur Clarke and I’m crazy about his book “The City and the Stars”. I’ve discovered this book only this year and have already re-read it five times! This is obviously a reading record for me!

3. My favourite drinks are tea, coffee and Coca-Cola. I know it’s not good for my health, but who said all our hobbies and habits should be healthy ones?

4. I like soft toys and whenever I see another cute fluffy thing in a shop, I can’t resist the temptation to adopt it.

5. As for computer games, there is only one I’m playing now on a regular basis, and this is the Minion Rush.

6. I like drawing. I think I’m good at it though I’ve never had any formal training. However, I haven’t drawn anything for a rather long time, which is definitely very sad.

7. I keep on struggling with learning French, but regardless of all my failures I don’t lose determination and optimism.

8. I’m re-starting my tango classes – I’ve already bought a nice dress for this purpose!

9. I’m very bad at money – once I have it, I spend it all.

10. When I was 16, I had my hair cut close to the skin. So I was bald for some time.

11. I’ve never had any pets, but I grow oaks on my window-sill.

12. (yes, number 12 – coz I like this number!) I like travelling by planes because I’m thrilled by the very moments of taking off and the touchdown.

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Answers to Sophia’s questions:

1. What was the conference you enjoyed the most in 2013?

There were two – the ELTforum in Bratislava (June) and Western TESOL Greece in Preveza (October)

2. Facebook or Twitter? Why?

Facebook has become an indispensible part of my life! It’s the place where I can connect with my friends from around the world whenever I switch on my computer. And also, Facebook is the source of interesting astronomical and scientific stuff.

3. Do you know any nickname(s) your students have given you?

As far as I know, I’ve never had any nicknames. Only once some of my students called me “Sashen’ka” which is a tender short name for Alexandra.

4. Do you prefer reading on screen or on paper?

No doubt, I prefer paper books, but I feel I’ve come to terms with electronic books thanks to my iPad.

5. What’s the best blogpost you have ever written?  

I’ve got two favourite posts: one on students’ feedback and the other on a puppet theatre and drama.

6. Are you a morning or a night person?

I haven’t decided yet. But my life experience tells me I’m a late morning person.

7. Name 3-5 digital tools/apps that you use with your classes on a regular basis.

Old-fashioned as it may seem, but I haven’t used any on a regular basis. But I’m not inveterate “teach-as-our-grandfathers-taught” sort of a teacher and I’m open for opportunities and new trends. So, when I find an app that will perfectly suit my teaching, I think I’ll be using it quite regularly.

8. What was the most unusual food you have ever eaten? What was it like?

So far, it’s been a fried octopus. I tried it for the first (and so far the only) time in Preveza, Greece. It was unforgettably delicious!

9. Have you ever lived in another country other than the one you live now? Where was it?

The longest time I’ve spend living abroad was only three summer month in 2007. I lived in London, UK.

10. Imagine you won a scholarship to attend an ideal conference anywhere in the world. Where would that be?

In absolutely any place which I can have a direct flight to.

11. What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Loud noises and music, except for discos and concerts where loud music is a must.

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And now the 11 bloggers I’m sending my questions to (Actually, there are only 8):

Aphro Gkiouris:  http://aphrogranger.wordpress.com/
Barbara Bujtas: https://www.facebook.com/barbibu
Vladimira Chalyova: http://vladimiramichalkova.edublogs.org/
Barry Jameson: http://barryjameson.wordpress.com/
Chiew Pang: http://iasku.wordpress.com/me/
Joel Josephson: http://theuneducatededucator.edublogs.org/
Mark Andrews: http://markandrews.edublogs.org/
Tamas Lorincz: http://tamasonline.com/

My 11 questions to other bloggers:

1. What is a thing or activity that you have never done in your life before but which you would like to try out?

2. If you have attended an ELT conference or a webinar this year, which talk or workshop was the most memorable? Why?

3. What are the three things or skills you have learnt this year?

4. What would you be doing if money wasn’t an issue?

5. What is your latest fad?

6. What can make you freeze in admiration?

7. What are your favourite songs of 2013?

8. What are you thankful for?

9. What books have you read in 2013 which you would recommend?

10. What will you remember the year of 2013 for?

11. If you could choose, where would you live? Why?

A big thank you to Sophia Mavridi for tagging me! It’s been a really fun Christmas flash-blog-mob!🙂

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Miscellaneous