The EarsPeeled Project – An Overview of Eight Learning Months

It has been some time since this blog has had a post published, mostly because sitting on the other side of the table took its toll on personal sharing. In the past few months, my time was divided between making sure I’m well (essential before we embark on anything), those PBL courses I adore and the organizing of events for the Greek ELT community – so the chance of presenting one of the projects at an event I’d had no part in the setting of was remarkably refreshing and simultaneously intimidating. Do others feel like this, I wonder. I’m not yet certain how that presentation went since I haven’t had the time to go through my collected data and reflect upon it properly. The immediate feedback has been great, teachers have already got on board and begun working on the EarsPeeled Project, yet I’m not entirely satisfied with myself. I need to reach a new level of balance (Presentation slides here). Thank you to TESOL MTh and the outgoing Board for giving me the opportunity to share at the 25th Jubilee Convention!

Back to the project: Most of the material my groups work on comes from their own interactions, as well as among them and myself. As all good learning stories, this project started from a frustrated student’s comment and the urge of the group to end that frustration. Should we speak in a particular way in order to be understood in our second language? Does it have to do with accent or diction? Do we listen in the same way as we’d like to be listened to? Is this an indication of our competence and knowledge?

I have to (re)state here that our starting point is trust. In order for a project to materialize, we need to feel comfortable with each other in sharing, offering suggestions, giving feedback and working through tasks collectively. In many ways, a project cultivates the above and sets effective learning in motion; in our case, eight fourteen to sixteen-year-olds, who had much more in common than they realized in the beginning, managed to come together and deliver tangible outcomes after almost eight months of designing and collaborating on the project. That particular group had had experience in the task-based approach and, as the questions multiplied and developed in complexity, their previously acquired skills were put to the test so as to make every task meaningful and constructive. Meeting face-to-face once a week and collaborating online in our Google classroom twice more, the group had sufficient time to discuss new ideas, resolve issues and reflect as a team.

The first stage was simpler in devising and implementing, with tasks like:
-students producing written dialogues in a variety of everyday contexts (breakfast at home, getting to school, discussion during intervals, etc), using prompts provided by the group, and progressively touching on subjects where they felt less confident to express themselves
-role-playing (engaging in a variety of activities and dramatization techniques)
-sub-group recording examples of the everyday discussions above and sub-group identifying the context
-assessing products within the group and brainstorming ways to resolve emerging issues and plan further steps

Moving to the second stage came much faster than I expected, mid-way through the second month. I felt apprehensive, I must admit it. My concerns were whether the group had had enough time to experiment with the techniques and tasks, and also whether it was necessary for me to interfere and stall the process. The driving question, however, had already been enriched with emergent follow-ups: “Does what we say depend on who is listening?” , “Should we change our words and tone in order to be understood?”. Seeing how engaged the group was in the new prospects, I decided to risk it and allow things to evolve, which thankfully led to some further intriguing results:
*Re-naming the project: the made-up idiom story
*The PM Board: task pin-board where the week’s team leaders left messages in the phonetic transcript (the group’s effort to make the most of – both printed and online – dictionary use within our project’s framework)
*The teacher infiltration:
1.opportunity for instruction and scaffolding of bottom-up and top-down processes simultaneously
2.initiating ELF attempts (a shout-out and big thank you, here, to
*The decision to take steps out of safety:
1.presenting project tasks at morning school and involving classmates
2. organizing collective book read-aloud sessions for younger learners, peers in language schools and eventually preparing to contribute to LibriVox

We are currently in the third stage of our project, where the focus is on presenting the group’s work in detail through the final product: the Project website. The core group in Athens has been collecting their own and all material from other groups taking part and has been designing the webpage on the Wix platform. It has been a demanding task, as it requires careful planning, clear roles, and efficient time management, but so far it seems the group has got everything under control and will meet the end-of-March deadline.

No matter how many projects we work on, students never cease to amaze me – but more on that in the next post, along with my notes and reflections 🙂


Game it!

I might be away on project work, but great things are in store and just wanted to share the excitement 🙂

So here’s a little preview…until the end of September when I’ll be meeting & sharing with excellent educators at the TESOL Greece Start-of-the-Year event!

#30Goals Combo Challenge; a case study on the glittering world stage.

When I saw the goal posted by Theodora I instantly thought of one student. This post is dedicated to N., for educating me on the things we can achieve if we listen to our learners and for being patient and willing to try everything – even when he wasn’t really in the mood to do so. I see him as  the epitome of case studies (!), so I had to turn this into a combo challenge;

First, a bit of background:

N was a student at a language school I used to work for about five years ago. He was already branded a ”nightmare” and everyone was anxious to warn me of his erratic behaviour and denial towards learning. I didn’t get the chance to see him ”in action” at the time, as I was assigned  another class, but I would see him in passing and chat to him during intervals. One thing I could tell for sure: he was NOT a nightmare of any kind, outside the classroom anyway. On the contrary, he seemed an extremely clever, considerate and creative person. I talked to his parents a lot, as well, in an effort to unveil the mystery of how such a promising mind could cause problems and negative comments among his teachers. But I was not ”his” teacher and therefore could not have much say on the matter, as was pointed out to me by the DoS.
I also didn’t have the chance to explore the issue more, as he (along with his classmates) left the school that same year.
I would hear news of him from other students and parents, not promising in any way, and used to worry about him and feel I had in a way abandoned him. Until last December.

I got a call, late last December, from N’s dad. Would I take up the tremendous feat of teaching N? Would I?! Thrilled. I think that’s the word. I felt excited and apprehensive at the same time. Would this work? N is 15 and simply doesn’t care for schools and lessons of any kind. I quote: ” I hate them all. It’s pointless”.
It would work, because it was up to us to make it work.

It’s common and logical to decide on how you’ll approach a course beforehand but that could not be the case here. Together with N, we decided that our lessons would take shape along the way, so this one-to-one course would be based primarily on observation. We decided on a goal: a C2 certification, and took it from there to form our lessons. We keep record of our findings and progress together. We’re both gamers, so we take notes as if we’re writing a game walkthrough.

Level 1. First observations and feedback.
N hates books and loves social media. That was the first piece of knowledge we established. He doesn’t mind reading online though, it seems more natural to him and he can retain things better.
We spent the first two months of our course reading, discussing and writing articles and sharing news and views on almost every social media website.
Personal observations: He’s a competent user of English already and has a unique ability of making any piece of spoken or written language noticeable. Great presentation skills; he would make an incredible performer. Certain elements need to be worked out, a couple of grammar and structure issues. Could we avoid the grammar book?
N’s observations: ”I prefer e-books to books because I really enjoy doing things on my computer!
I also CAN’T STAND hardcopies…because I think they are VERY BORING. It’s just a paper with words…but on the computer there is a difference; you can have animated pictures and that makes it more enjoyable.”

Level 2. Getting the hang of it.
How could we move from competency to proficiency? There are no set ways of assessing progress since we don’t use a course book. Do we need a course book after all? No; not yet, anyway. We’ll try the open course on Edmodo.
I had created an Edmodo group for C2 learners at the beginning of the school year. Could it be useful to N?
Personal observations: He was so ready for this. He kept posting questions, he was the first to do the polls and quizzes (90% score being the lowest) and was the only one viewing the group’s library files on a daily basis. He actually ended up correcting answers from other students taking the ECPE this May. Well, there you go.
N’s observations: ”It’s a nice way to learn things because it’s like Facebook, which is something I use everyday, and it’s not tiring. I can also communicate and work with other people who are members on Edmodo and that may lead to very good lessons!”
The extras: I asked all students on Edmodo (B2 and C2 levels) to interact with each other and introduce themselves to their fellow learners. Nick’s powtoon video was an instant hit among them and the web community in general. He’s got something very special.

Level 3. Let the games begin!
Gaming came into our lessons naturally. We’d talk about them, exchange views, discuss differences and watch tutorials together. We are quite different gamers. I’m more of an intellectual healer and he’s the ultimate fearless adventurer! Fearless being the word. He was so anxious one day to show me a new game he was playing, ”You must try this!”. He showed me how. I was terrified going through it but felt so proud while he explained gameplay in English.
Have a look at my frightful but rewarding experience (with occasional slips into L1 due to the excitement!):



Personal observations: Computer games are slightly misunderstood, I feel. Yes, there are a lot of issues to iron out when you try to integrate them in your lessons, but we should give them a chance. Being a gamer definitely helps, as it’s easier to choose appropriate games, relevant to the learning context and create assignments you know your students will complete straight away. With N, who is convinced he can’t write a ”proper” text (as he calls it) in English, I set a game task every week within the construction set of one of our common favourite games: First he had to create a character and provide a short bio, then he had to place that character in an environment (country, city, village, anywhere he chose) and so on. He’s starting to accept that he actually can write ”properly” in English.
N’s Observations:  ”My favorite games are Horror and Action ones which make you feel the adrenaline burst in your whole body and that makes me feel alive!
I also use games to learn and practice my English. Learning from games is a great thing that makes lessons more interesting and amusing and I think I can write better when I do it for the game mod.”

 Level 4: Bring the world in
Sometimes two people are not enough. A 1-to-1 lesson can have its drawbacks, but we can work our way around it.
N started using social media in English (he had all profiles in Greek, his native language) and set up a new Tumblr where he could post his thoughts while practicing his second language. We started creating videos for what we learned together and shared them with the world for feedback.
Personal Observations: I almost don’t believe how much N has achieved so far, not only in language acquisition, but in becoming an admirable digital citizen of the world. His love for music, dancing and photography have gained him an array of followers who anticipate his next post and that audience is gradually becoming bigger and multicultural.
N’s Observations: ”Writing is not my favorite thing, but when I can put a picture there and a video or a song it’s better. And when people like it or share it again it is like they know what I do and why I do it.” 

We are currently in Level 5: Exam preparation and things feel smooth. We’re slowly moving to set exam tasks and so far the hardest thing has been moving from typing back to handwriting. We’re taking small steps and have decided that the best way to start is drawing. We spent a couple of hours handling pens, pencils and markers to decide which feels better and did the same for notepads. We chose a thin A4 pad for essays and a thick A3 for our creative projects and storyboarding. The A4 can have only words on it, while the A3 is open to all means of expression: words, drawings, pictures, doodles, anything. The pens and pencils that passed the test have their spot in the middle of our working area.
N draws his own picture and writes two short paragraphs every week on quotes or pictures I share with him on Facebook. He is free to upload his creations on his Tumblr after we’ve discussed them in the lesson. It’s a good start.

Lessons so far and what the future holds:

What have we achieved? We have built a strong relationship. We know what our expectations are respectively and we take steps based on respect for each other and the time we devote to our lessons. We know we aren’t exactly equal, but we try to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. We think, we are creative and we never stop learning.
This is not just about learning (or teaching) English; it is about developing the right habits.

Here are N’s general observations after six months:

For me this is a perfect lessonWe listen to music, not very loud, but it’s nice and we don’t do boring book stuff; we play games to practice speaking and writing and we work online which is very helpful because I have all my notes in one place.When we like a song we write the lyrics on our own which helps me a lot with listening and we make videos like presentations, games’ descriptions and documentary type videos that everyone can see. Studying isn’t always boring and having an English lesson isn’t the same as others. I don’t mind doing it, even if it was longer or more times every week.

I’ll close my (huge, I fear) post with a quote mash-up:
Habits are malleable throughout our entire life (Charles Duhigg) and they can change into character (Ovid).


Student Challenge – Video Introductions

Inspired by 30 Goals Challenge for Educators and the first goal of Cycle 5, I asked students from various parts of Athens, to create their own presentations to introduce themselves to each other . I thought, be proactive , create tutorials and FAQs for them , anticipate their worries – as it turned out , the only one in need of tutorials and soothing words was … me .

A proud and somewhat painful moment in teaching is the realisation my students don’t really need my help ; I’ve had several of those moments since the beginning of this challenge ! ( Come to think of it , I should have written PROUD …)

Here are the videos :















Preparing for the journey & Challenging Students

The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators has embarked on a journey around the world and even though I boarded on a bit later than I wanted to it was so great to work on my introduction!

At first it seemed too much of a challenge; there were so many things I could have put together, so many tools I could use and as always I wasn’t entirely sure whether anyone would be interested in it. But if the 30 goals community has taught me anything, that is the power of sharing and getting feedback.

After working around several digital tools (bless you Shelly Sanchez Terrell!), I decided to go with PowToon. I love its cartoon-like, uplifting vibes and learning my way around it has sparked an alarmingly large number of activities I could do with students.

First of all, I thought of extending the 3-2-1 Intro goal and ask my  students on Edmodo (a group preparing for ECCE, where students are from different parts of town) to create their own presentation using PowToon. I think it’ll be a nice break from the norm and will help them get to know each other in a fun and creative way (I also secretly hope we’ll finally get over the ”My name is {…}, I’m {…} years old and I live in {…}!).
Here’s my plan:

”And you are…?”
1. Send students links of my 3-2-1 Intro and the PowToon website.
2.  Set deadlines: Students will have a week to prepare their intro and share it with the group.
3. Explain the task: ”Introduce yourself to the group. Tell us some interesting things about yourself, using pictures and your favourite music and include something we don’t know about you!”.
4. Guide students through PowToon on our group’s timeline when necessary.

Another activity I have in mind is for two 1-to-1 students preparing for FCE, to help them practise Part 2 of the Speaking Task from a different angle. As they’ll have one minute to talk on their own comparing, describing and giving opinions for this part of the exam, I think creating a video with a time-limit can do wonders.
This plan is for discussing holidays:

” 1 minute to go”
1. Send each student a prompt with two pictures

2. Ask them to create a 1 minute PowToon describing their dream holiday.
3. Ask them to share their video with the other student, along with a short paragraph describing what is seen in their presentation.
4.Get students to comment on each other’s presentation.

I’ll update the post with the results soon!

Image Credits: All-free-download

The lucky pig

The first post of 2014!
Last time I blogged was on Christmas Eve for #Eleven Random Facts, tagged by Theodora Papapanagiotou, and her question on lucky items or traditions was somehow glued to my head; probably because it made me realise how eager I was to get my lucky charm for the new year, lovingly handcrafted by my mother. I had been sneaking in the workshop all through the holiday season, but she had it well hidden and made me fear that maybe I wasn’t getting one this time and everything would go wrong.
Touch wood, I’m not superstitious…

But New Year’s Eve came and there it was, wrapped in its shiny sachet, under our festive boat. My new little…pig.


I hope this little one will assist me all through 2014 to get where I should be – even though I’m not certain as to where that is yet. I hope it will provide some good fortune in fulfilling goals, facing new challenges and acquiring new knowledge.
For the Chinese, the pig is a symbol of honesty, tolerance, initiative and diligence and I’ve been told Schwein gehabt means Good luck is at hand. In any case, I’ll rephrase the quote attributed to Niels Bohr and say that a pig will bring you good luck whether you believe in it or not!  How can one argue with such logic?
I got the lucky coin from our vasilopita, so it’s already showing promise!

My seven-day #staycation – Day One: #Photography in Learning

Capture the moment – I can’t even count the times I’ve thought of that. No, it’s not always easy and yes, you can get into an argument for being a random person with the camera at hand. Not that I go around taking pictures of people fighting or anything…
I just love taking pictures. I don’t know if I’m any good at it and, frankly, it doesn’t really matter. They say ”a picture is a thousand words”; I think it’s more like a thousand worlds. The same image can make someone laugh and some others cry, one may wonder where that could have been taken and another might dismiss it as commonplace. But everyone feels compelled to think about it. That’s the power of pictures for me. That’s what I’m looking for while learning (or teaching).
I started using my own pictures during classes mainly due to availability (in the pre – eltpics era), but also because I could plan around what set of images I would use. It’s the same tactic I follow while blogging, sometimes a picture I’ve already taken is the idea behind a post and at other times I go on a hunt for pictures to accompany my thoughts.


My first day of staycation was devoted to sorting out the pictures I’ve taken since October 2012 (previous ones have been sorted, of course). I turned the camera on, the number ”15506” appeared at the bottom right corner, I panicked and immediately turned it off. But then I thought ”come on, be brave” and sat down to business.

Here are three general tips of utmost importance that I have occasionally neglected:
-Make sure you’ve set the current date and time on your camera. It saves a lot of time later on; since machines haven’t taken over the world yet, it’s you who has to tell them what to do and when to do it!
-Know where you’ll find your photos. Have dedicated folders and provide for enough space on your hard drives.
-Don’t fear the ”delete” option. If the angle, the light or the background troubles you in any way, move on to the next photo. (Tip within the tip: take more than one shot of your subject if possible, so you can have a choice later).

Now what? Well, that depends on how you use those pictures,
Photos are  to me an inexhaustible source of teaching  material. I have recycled my pictures numerous times over the years, on a variety of subjects and learner levels. That’s why I normally keep them organised by theme more than by date or place taken and why certain groups of my pictures are connected to particular activities.
Here’s an example:
I use the following set at the beginning of an Intermediate course to initiate a guessing game and lead in to an open speaking session for computer skills and technology in learning

(You’ll notice that the pictures have no caption; even though I have set a title for them, a caption would be restrictive in this case and wouldn’t make good ground for a guessing game.)
This activity has proved extremely useful when trying to introduce ICT in class, and not only with learners; I’ve used the same set at parents’ meetings in order to explain the importance of tech-skills within the learning environment.

Is that it then? Not quite!
Now we get to more interesting parts: editing and sharing.

Sometimes pictures need an extra ”something”, usually because it seems right at that moment, for that specific thing you’re trying to portray. And why not make them available to other teachers? How do you go about that?

Again, that depends on individual needs and skills. If you’re a Googler like me (ok, not exclusively, but mostly), and you’re looking for something simple, go with Picassa – the latest version caters for your needs both in editing and socially though Web Albums and Google+. Things might seem a bit scattered, but it’s only getting used to it!
My personal favourites on Picassa are the Google Drive integration, the fact that you can have a private url for chosen albums  – very helpful for my start-of-the-year speaking sessions prompted by the learners’ own pictures which I can’t share online without permission! – and, more importantly, that you can upload most formats (like Photoshop .psd) aside from mainstream .jpgs and .pngs.
I also love Flickr, for its simple user interface, the unlimited storage even on the Free Account and the further ease in sharing through both Android and iPhone applications.

If, however, you’re a bit more design-savvy or willing to learn, I’d definitely recommend editing using Adobe Photoshop 7.0   (because it works like a dream, even when you stress it) or Photoshop Elements and then making up your mind on where you’ll share them.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in one place. Different accounts on separate hosts make pictures accessible by more people!



After deleting several duplicates and pictures I didn’t really like or thought I could use, the number of photos was finally reduced to 7104. Much more manageable. They’re all sorted now and will soon find their place in my Flickr and Picassa albums.

Last minute reminders:
-you can use all the pictures within this blog (under Creative Commons Attribution), unless otherwise noted (for images I’ve borrowed and/or edited from other sources)
-I’m only sharing what I have found useful; not endorsing any products.
-Your feedback is highly valued! If you have any suggestions, please submit your comments!