#TogetherWorks – Presenting at Greek TESOLs 2016

It is remarkable how many connecting points you can discover when talking to a fellow educator, most of them underlying, present at all times, surfacing gradually as you share your joy or worry over a cup of coffee.
Theodora Papapanagiotou and I first connected online three years ago and all through this time of sharing between us, both on a personal and a professional level, we always talked about presenting together. We felt we needed to share the love we both had for our learners and our profession and the commonality in our approach to teaching and learning. After several missed opportunities, for many different reasons (especially last summer on my part), the time finally came to put this together and invite our colleagues to discuss alternative and creative ways in exam preparation at the two TESOL Conventions in Greece.

Chris&Theo

The certificate-hunting culture still holds strong in our country, resulting in ever younger learners being pressured into taking exams, inevitably being forced to memorize vocabulary out of context and drilled into grammar rules completely unconnected to their function. We are still sacrificing fluency and meaningfulness at the altar of certification, of proven “knowledge”, and not only in foreign language learning. In full honesty, I don’t want my learners’ first question to be “what percentage should I get correct to pass the exam”. Unfortunately, it is the first question I hear from most of them. It is a challenge to try and shift their focus to their abilities and needs, to how learning a language can help them progress further in anything they attempt and to that any certificate is a positive result of their personal efforts, not the end goal.

Making the exam preparation process meaningful for them is not difficult really; as with all courses, we start with the learners and build on what they have, what they want and what they hope to achieve. We can do this through projects, through adding creative tasks to the material we are using, through exploring different approaches and giving our learners the space to find their voice. We can get a learning community going, blend our lessons and use appropriate technology effectively and encourage self- and peer- assessment to keep learners motivated.
Moving away from traditional quantitative into qualitative assessment, by building personal and class portfolios, gives both our learners and us a clear view of what we have achieved and what we still need to work on.

We will both be sharing more in future posts and articles. For now, a big thank you to everyone who joined us in our talks in Athens and Thessaloniki, for their input and feedback!

You can view the slides of our presentation here

Links and webtools presented during our talk here

Thoughts & New things on the Blog

Where is this going? The blog, I mean. Does it have to go anywhere even? I started blogging three years ago, not because I had anything important to say, but because it seemed like the best way to share thoughts and invite more thoughts to bounce along my own. There could be a better idea out there, a stronger word. It was also a way of organizing my chaotic brain.

In terms of bouncing, it’s worked 100%. I’ve had inspiring and empowering ideas to add to my own and I’m so grateful for all contributions and feedback. I’ve been asked interesting questions, like ‘why don’t you write in Greek?’ or ‘how do you decide what to write?’. Um, I don’t know and I don’t know. Some things come naturally and I prefer it that way. Other things are planned and they’re fine too.
Organizing is a different story. It’s been impossible to keep typed thoughts in order; pencils seem to rule that domain, and pens on and off. Different notebooks for the several different things I’ve found myself doing, which might sound like it’s making the chaos worse but it isn’t. There are quite a lot of coloured pens and pencils and endless rows of sticky notes as well. It works. And makes the blogging easier, actually.

So where do we go from here? To the two thoughts that led to the two new sections of the blog.

The first is the result of bouncing happily online, from a random comment to a new idea and story.
Stories are as significant and versatile as each and every one of their readers. It’s not about somebody writing a piece or two, it’s more about the ones who sit and go through those pieces. They might find something new in there, or perhaps something old. They might find themselves, or someone they know, or even meet someone entirely new. But they will discover. Something is always twirling in your mind and there’s a unique kind of joy when someone sees it, grabs one end and starts pulling it out. That’s what Sylvia Guinan did at some point, by inviting me to write a guest post for WiziQ. And so this whole thing came to be. Thank you Sylvia.Time to let those true tales breathe out in the open.

Tales4ExamTakers

The second is simultaneously personal and professional. I’ve been a freelance teacher for over a year now. Had a lot of feedback, which can be summed up in those two statements: ‘you should have done this a long time ago’ and ‘ you’re crazy, you’re supposed to seek security’. Frankly, that’s exactly how it’s been in my head as well. Did I make the right choice? Does it work for me? Will (or can) I keep it up? So, a new series of posts on exactly that: the attempt to organise my thoughts on what it really is I’m doing. It might work.

FreelancerDiary