Let Things Grow

I’m sitting yet again on a train, heading to one of my many somewheres; in this surprisingly comfortable seat by the window – and this time being spared the typical odd companion who comes and sits next to me with an enthusiastic chatting fever – I’ve got about an hour’s journey ahead and the chance to indulge in blog reading. I’ve done my homework: the posts are bookmarked and have little notes on them already – following the habit of reading one blogpost per trip (which means I read through three or four per day).

Inevitably the twitterverse intervenes, partly because I like to share what I’m reading and partly because I just can’t help checking what everyone else has been reading. If anyone checks my twitter feed, it might seem slightly weird – but I have been branded with that term since my teens, so that’s ok.

In a couple of those interventions, Zhenya (as she always manages) prompted the thought – and this post, subsequently – on favourite tools for professional and personal development. I promised a post and then took something like two months to write it. It happens. I doubt you don’t follow her blog, but just in case, DO follow WednesdaySeminars.

I think that answering a question on favourite tools is a difficult one. It can’t be one or two, you see, it’s multiples of multiples. While pondering over the several ways in which we move ourselves forward, it struck me that it has more to do with habits and attitudes than with single tools. In my case- and I know how challenging people who know me find this – everything evolves around questions. What’s this? How does it work? Can I do that? Why/Why not? Sometimes those whys and hows burden me too much, but to be fair, I’m not sure whether things would have developed well if I lacked that continuous sense of wonder. Sometimes it would be better to stop wondering. And look. And listen. Closely. Other times, it’s worth more to think than to listen or notice. Making the distinction between those is also a burden but thankfully, I have found other, similarly weird teachers who share my quests: a lovely, informal and hugely productive Reflective Practice group; a place to wonder, practice,then wonder some more, and all among people who allow for both activity and silence.

Silence is something great. I’m not sure how others perceive it, but for me it is necessary. As a bookworm, there is little that can interrupt my reading and silence also allows for easy breathing, thinking and writing – journaling I should say, because that’s what it is; a habit I’m happy and lucky to have developed and sustained. There is safety in a journal, which cannot compare to anything else, and what normally strikes me is how easily silence is achieved even in the most crowded of places, given the right circumstances.

The safe circles are all well and good, but we are not here just for ourselves and those close to us. A good practice, a worry, a simple thought, all need that added bit of magic: sharing. Sharing in any way we feel comfortable with. I’m not massively happy with social media generally, and blogging is actually something I do whenever I feel like it. The last few months, for example, only two or three posts appeared here and that’s because I was in a terrible mood and state and all my writing equally just oozed negativity. I didn’t press ‘publish’ and I’m glad I didn’t. It seemed better to channel energy to further studies, teacher development events with TesolGreece and other Associations, project ideas, working on my website and preparing proposals/presentations. 

I suppose the only tool it’s worth using as the basis of our development is ourselves. Do we know what we’re comfortable in? Do we have limits? Do we know when we’re most and least productive? Can we distinguish between what’s necessary and what’s only hype? Are we happy? Can we formulate habits that make us happy?

It is up to us, really. If I’ve learned anything so far, that is to make efforts, head forward and let things grow. And things do.

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To great beginnings…#littlereflections

I can’t think of a better way to start the school year other than diving¬†into the learning zone; and not just any learning zone, but the one where you’re surrounded and nudged forward by excellent colleagues. There were so many moments to keep from the Start-of-the-Year event in September that I’d need post after post to cover them – so, instead, a little info and reflection coming below; just to send those vibes out to the world.

 

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Anna Petala took us inside a story – a truly wonderful way of presenting grammar, while making it relevant and engaging for young learners. Kings, queens and royal pets, swords and tiaras, all binding together and leading to solid learning. The crafting part was also a personal highlight; making our own reminders ūüėČ
(Find more information on their website Europoint and on their Facebook page here.)

 

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Gwyn Owen then unfolded the¬†magic of emerging language, something¬†I love exploring and try my best to make good use of in my classes too. There is so much passion, creativity and potential in each of¬†our students, and as Gwyn made obvious through his captivating presentation, it doesn’t take much to move what happens ‘on the side’ right to the center of our learning environment. Effort, yes; altering teaching perceptions, yes; And all worth it.

 

And then it was time for me to game the whole thing a little more…
There’s something truly unique in sharing with fellow educators, especially when the idea shared doesn’t follow the mainstream patterns but introduces an alternative.
I felt somewhat¬†apprehensive at first; game-based learning might be gaining more and more ground globally, yet it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and certainly raises numerous concerns – when you haven’t tried it ¬†ūüôā
Some¬†points I’ll be further reflecting on in follow-up posts:

  • It’s always best to keep the talking to the minimum and maximize the doing. ¬†– Verified (again).
  • Show the results. It’s all about the learners and they are the ones with things to say.¬†– Still stand by this.
  • Feedback form. Hmmm. Given that an overall feedback form is distributed, a specific one per workshop might be too much. –¬†Choosing not to hand out my workshop feedback form¬†felt strange. Should I have stayed on principle and given it?
    (You can have a look at my presentation on Slideshare)

A big thank you to the TESOL Greece Board and family, my fellow presenters and everyone who joined us for that lovely learning Sunday at Ionios School!
(and special thanks to our dear Matina Katseli for her lovely photos!)

 

#MindtheGap

And…it’s been three months since my last post – normally I’d wonder where all this time went, only I know quite well where and since that’s a place I have moved on from, what better way to celebrate than with some writing here?

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Those three months were¬†basically full of two things: work and worry. Not a good combination, I should point out. How can you work when you worry all the time? Ok, you can, but maybe the outcome isn’t what you were hoping for – at least it wasn’t in my case. Through my superficial reflection it¬†seemed that taking up many responsibilities was the problem, but the truth is: if you naturally worry too much about things it certainly affects your balance, no¬†matter if you are doing one thing or ten – which sounds perfectly logical now that I have¬†written¬†it here, but took me a useless right hand, (too) long hours of sulking and deep reflection to realize.

Not all was bad of course.

*Reminding and convincing myself to use the left hand was fun, not to mention what a breakthrough it felt like to actually manage it. My biggest issue with that no-good right hand was that it affected my expression -as¬†I talk with my hands too, at times it seemed I just wasn’t getting through to anyone. I couldn’t write either, so I spent many hours hating that right hand; but it also led me¬†to the smoking-free zone, and I remain there.

*Kids. And teaching. When your doctor has scared you so much that¬†tomorrow seems, if nothing else, horrible and improbable, all you’ve got is now really. Spend ‘now’ productively and keep trying to make a difference in one or a million lives. Unsurprisingly, your learners are there for you and the only way is forward.
(/end of empowering message/)

*Goodness in the background; and by that I mean all the wonderful¬†people who still went ahead with me in mind, so now that I’m the right place, in more or less all aspects, there are great things for me to do. In most cases, I didn’t even say a word – ¬†thank you Universe of Thoughtful People.

Standing too long in the gap might be frustrating, but sometimes it is necessary; so is silence and being mindful, towards yourself and everyone.
This is not a revelations post, no.
It’s a reaffirming, getting back to where you should be post. And I used both hands to write it.

Forward, then?

(PS: interesting search results while looking for an appropriate image Рgaps of all sorts are apparently a much debated topic online.)

Rethinking Teaching with #iTDi – Reflections

How often do you find yourself in a learning space? Aside from your classroom, I mean.¬†I took last month’s Advanced Course with John Fanselow, and many wonderful fellow explorers, on iTDi and found myself right there, in the learning zone. The invitation to Rethink usually works for me and it worked this time too. Even though I decided to join the course just before it started, even though I took my time with it, it was the right choice and I’m so happy I did.

On with the discoveries…

In the crust of things

Teaching grammar and vocabulary separately really doesn’t make much sense, and making it work in our classes can be challenging for several reasons.¬†The teaching context and the learning culture of ourselves and our students play a big part. As teachers, most of us have learned to abide by certain rules, which very often transform into routines we shape our students into. Some students, depending on the culture, expect those routines, even. Our own language awareness and training are vital.
Working through the course, two things got me (re)thinking about how I teach: 1. the alternative suggestions and 2. John Fanselow’s frequent silence, which encouraged our own thoughts to form and interaction among participants to take place. I actually wrote down ‘silent way-skip the rods’ in my notes (yes, I keep notes on anything I do). I’m rethinking that note now.
I’ve had the opportunity to explore the various activities suggested during the course with different level students and in different contexts. I felt lucky to have such a variety to work with as a teacher, since teaching for me is not confined within a class or a school; it happens indoors and outdoors, with teens, with young adults, with university students, with professionals. What made an impression on me were the common elements in each of these teaching opportunities: student resourcefulness, interaction and collaboration – the teacher observing, offering assistance where necessary and assessing. Whether it was an original text we were using or a very specific piece for exam preparation, the results were more or less the same. And why do I keep writing third or sometimes fourth in the line of activities when it can offer so much right from the beginning? My own perception and possibly fear of burdening my students, which just wasn’t the case, they were all quite comfortable to listen, think, read, write and talk, regardless of which came first.

On observing myself

-Time is what it is, what it has been appointed to be. Becoming obsessed with it, as I often do, gets you nowhere. There is time for everything you want to do, everything your students would like to do, for everything you are supposed to do together. It takes some planning and some experience, true. It also takes some open-mindedness and willingness to make things work. Even as I signed up for the course I kept thinking that my time was limited, that I wouldn’t be able to follow. Obviously, I got that wrong.¬†So accept time, plan better and move forward.
-I appreciate theories when I can do something with them. Having a series of activities I could plan around, use and observe in action was refreshing and essential. Having the opportunity to then go back, share what I observed, thought and felt and get feedback, made all the difference.
-Strive even more for student independence. The notion that teachers are mighty know-it-all’s has never found me in agreement. Since my first day in a class I’ve been a motivator, a guide, an observer. I think it’s partly because of that approach that I altered and extended coursebook activities when I was obliged to use them and why authentic material and no material became my main tools in later years. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with coursebooks, not all of them at least. A lot of work goes into them and they serve their purpose often. If I’m not comfortable with my material, however, why should my students be comfortable in learning with me? When they feel at ease, when they know that lessons happen for all of us involved to achieve something, students are open to exploration and they soon realise that learning is an ongoing, lifelong task each of us goes through. Using them, their own experiences and background, can unlock the door to exceptional lessons that a textbook cannot plan or deliver.
-Working and learning within a community is the greatest experience. I didn’t comment on everything other participants wrote in the discussion forum, but I read and reread all contributions and there was so much to keep from each. There is a certain quality in the variety of personalities and teaching contexts and a heart-warming beauty in interactions with all of them. Something difficult to find elsewhere.

In spite of my initial thoughts, I followed and still follow everything, lived exciting moments with my students, learned and practiced so much,  broke the circle of routine and feel really proud to have received this:

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Had I not been so fixated on time or the supposed lack of it, I would have gone for (and I’d like to think would have got) a Certificate with Accomplishment. Well, that’s for the next course(s), as iTDi have an amazing series planned for the months to come.

A big thank you to the iTDi family (and faculty) for making this happen, and especially to John Fanselow and my fellow learners.