Add some humor #30GoalsEDU

Little things. Of all the posts I have written for the 30Goals Challenge, this one will probably take up the most space.  Because, you see, happiness very often comes in small and unexpected fragments that build up to something greater. In the several different learning environments we step into each day, we are given the chance to draw happiness closer. It isn’t always easy, we might have to trick it into approaching us. I like, however, to think that there are little bits of joy everywhere and all we really have to do is help them come forward.

Laughter is the language of the soul

Younger learners are a tough crowd and that’s because they’re open and honest; unhindered by the do’s and dont’s which regulate our adult lives. Their happiness though, once achieved, cannot hide and is contagious beyond measure. I don’t get the chance to work much with young learners these days, but there have been so many memorable moments of laughter that I still carry with me (and hope they carry them too).

Whether it was a finger puppet appearing, determined to put a smile on everyone’s face, or the practice of adjectives and adverbs through a game, or even ‘being mum/dad’ for a day to share our understanding and feelings for our parents (an activity I love because it equally engages learners and their families). Or just being happy and sharing it.

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Step into the teen world and be prepared: laughing comes with rules, which are broken more often than not (but not by you), since teenagers have a unique kind of reasoning, a worldview of their own, a dogma cut in the shape of them. Time for me to admit teens are my favourite age group to work with, I guess.

The first time I walked into a class of teenagers, I felt very much a teenager myself still. Just because you feel like a teen though doesn’t mean you are. You cannot fake adolescence. At the moment of despair, of awkward and troubled sideways looks , humor is a powerful weapon and my best advice would be to immediately stop taking yourself too seriously; actually, do that anyway.

From starting a lesson with ”If you want to catch a squirrel just climb a tree and act like a nut” written on the board (I also printed that one and others on shirts actually, since tutoring led me to board-less environments), to giving assignments in emoticon & sticker language or by using Blabberize and other similar tools, to individual and group readings of ”The Dork Diaries” and ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid’‘, to acting out their favourite sitcom, to being determined to finish that level in the game despite the roars of laughter at your screaming when zombies appear from every corner of the screen. You are not supposed to be a clown, nor a comedian. But you should be open to fun the way they see it, it’s your best and most affordable chance in professional (and personal) development.

 

And what about adult learners? A whole different zone, where you are perceived as somewhat an equal, with similar routines, troubles and aspirations. Most of my adult students have described our lessons as some kind of therapy, a break in their usual days, and very often we spend some of our time together to discuss whatever has come up. It certainly helps them and I find it an excellent way to improve speaking skills. Little jokes and puns always find their way in and I was surprised once to hear one student say that ‘‘those funny lines every now and then make me feel like when I get an endorsement on LinkedIn; they don’t mean a lot but they make me feel better”. It is the laughter. Short or extended. We feel better when we laugh and we bond much more easily.

In an effort to keep that good feeling going, how about introducing a laughing competition at the start or the end of the lesson? Hard, but possible and only takes one to start it; then it spreads. Some random acts of fun also help. Inspired once last year by an overjoyed woman singing to herself on a bus, I walked into a class humming the tune of SpongeBob, only to be almost immediately joined by six professionals. You can’t plan these moments.

Above all, I find that using comedy clips in our teaching is truly powerful. Not only as an extension to our lesson, but as a lesson itself. From a single clip to full comedy shows, there is so much authentic material we can use to engage adult learners, to provoke thought, to encourage language to emerge. At the beginning of the year, I used a recent stand-up show in English with a class, put together by a Greek comedian living in the UK. What they related to was not the fact that she was Greek, but that she was honest. We reviewed, discussed, wrote about it. We discovered that our perception of language and lessons is not all that different from others and that there is really one culture of people in spite of stereotypes trying to prove otherwise. Later that month we arranged to visit Gazi Comedy Club to watch Katerina Vrana perform her stand-up. What I didn’t tell them, was that this time it would be in Greek. Can you guess the results of our comparative study afterwards?

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I know (and people I’m close to know as well) that I’m held together mostly by serious bones and a couple of unnecessarily cynical ones; there are a couple of funny/silly ones though somewhere in that me-structure and those seem to be right at the foundations.

Learn Outside the Classroom #30GoalsEDU

For a change, let’s talk of something that we have done, not something that we plan to do 🙂

This is us:

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I have talked and blogged about our learning adventures together several times. Nick has been the student every teacher needs to have in their class and life. The student who from day one had made clear that ‘books don’t work’, that ‘school is classmates and not teachers’ and that ‘if it isn’t fun, I’m not doing it’. The ultimate challenge learner. Naturally, we took learning outside, to the place where everything happens at once and you can only cope if you’re up for it. The place where books are digital, compact and highly visual, where writing starts from single words and hashtags, where language comes forward because we need it to do so. For Nick, photography is his love and dancing is his breath, so that was what we worked on.

Our first step was to become tourists in our Athens (something I regularly do during my staycations, but this was the first time in student company). We role-played; we hopped on and off buses, we chatted with everyone, we explored what we knew and what we could discover. Each step was a photo, and each photo became a story. Language practice; effortlessly, because we needed to communicate our knowledge and feelings.

Dance came next. What does that have to do with language learning? How can it help you prepare for an exam? According to Nick, if you enjoy it, it will work. And judging by the experience and results, I have to agree. From dancing at home, then in the street, to a dance school and music videos, our learning took shape from within. I’m not much of a dancer, but Nick’s enthusiasm got me moving. His Tumblr posts are a must to many, including myself. He touches you because he loves what he does.

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Only two days ago we got his results; a High Pass on his C2 Certificate. An achievement owed to him doing what he wanted to do, have fun. We haven’t danced to celebrate it yet, but we will 🙂 And make sure someone can capture the moment!

Give Yourself (and each other) a Pep Talk #30GoalsEDU

I have taken the liberty of adding three words to this goal for several reasons, mainly the following:
1. Negative feelings can storm within us, sometimes for a reason and other times without one.
2. I’ve always felt that negativity should find its way out from us, to be put in words, on paper, on screens, be released into the wild cyclones of our lives.
3. A single word can give life to your inner self pursuits, make them real; and remold your perspective.
4. It’s unique to be able to fight negativity all by yourself.

We are social creatures. No breakthrough or revelation there. Our presence, however, very often plays a part that we are either unaware of or not prepared to embrace. Our words play the same part, since they are born to us; even the clichés, as it is us who choose to use them. As teachers, we are often overwhelmed by responsibility, towards our students, towards education, towards ourselves. And I have caught myself time and again drawing strength from the learners trusted in my hands. I have often found the way to see forests instead of single trees (talk about clichés!) because of honest eyes and smiles. I don’t pursue it, but I flourish in its light. Can we make negativity go away? WE can. It’s plural, you see, it cannot go wrong. Giving yourself a pep talk every day works, it’s true. A little note that reminds you of what is still good around you, of what you know you are good at. Imagine, though, for a moment getting little notes that remind you of what still has worth wherever you are, which part of you makes others tilt their head and smile as they picture you.

Start by making sure you see what means the world to you each day. My pep set of memories, reminders and presents:

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There are so many more ways to have this happen to us and involve others. I go with projects and creative explorations. In the offline, non-tech world, creating a board for class notes is easy and makes a huge difference in building relations among our students and ourselves.

Get some cork sheets, small envelopes and index cards (or some cutouts from used paper, any small white surface works here). Ask students to help you create this ‘feel good’ board. Pin the envelopes on the cork, you can personalize them by getting students to write their classmates’ names (which works as a getting to know each other activity too), or leave them blank as I normally do. It could be a personal good word or a universal one, you choose. Tell students they can add a small note in any empty envelope each day to make one of their classmates or their teacher feel happier, empowered and put a smile on their face.
Set this board somewhere so it is visible from any part of your class. Make it part of your and their daily routine. And experience bonds forming and language emerging. It looks like this:

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We have evolved into digital creatures too 🙂 Technology makes our lives faster and spectacular. Whether it is because you and students prefer web tools as a means of expression or perhaps you teach online, make technology work for you.
Create a padlet for students to share their daily or weekly good thoughts.
Ask them to Storybird the week and share with each other and you what they enjoyed.
Set up a social page so they can add the good thoughts they wish to share. A private Facebook or Google +  group works brilliantly.

There is significant learning taking place within all these activities. Not just language learning, but the learning that happens in small, big and bigger clusters of students and teachers. The one that teaches, or reminds, us of why social intelligence is not separate but intertwined with our knowledge.

#30GoalsEDU – Be someone’s champion

A goal that I’m so happy to have seen and taken time to work my way through…

Anastasia and I met online a bit less that a year ago, through the iTDi MOOC on WiZIQ last August, and ever since there have been so many wonderful connecting moments, chats, collaboration, exchange of ideas and practices.

I don’t know where to begin, honestly…an amazing colleague, an inspiring and resourceful educator, the mum to an angel – who just happens to destroy headphones!- someone I admire immensely for her patience and persistence to do her best, and so much more, in a state school (and big thanks to her school principal for equal persistence and understanding) .

Our work is so different in context but so similar in the roots of it all. She lives and works in Amaliada and blogs here  about all the great things she does for and with her students.

Enough from me.

Here are her insights, her vision, relate and feel inspired! It’s what true champions are made of.

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#30GoalsEDU – Support a movement

The Greek saying ”shared joy is double joy, shared pain is half the pain” is to me an unshakable truth.
It’s so great to be given the opportunity to share the movements I’ve had the honour to be part of, or that have been introduced to me by colleagues so I could support those as well.

The 30GoalsChallenge for Educators, for the ideas, the constant inspiration and the connection to exceptional colleagues  it has brought into my world.

TESOL Greece and TESOL Macedonia-Thrace,  for their ongoing efforts to bring us only the best and their support to all teachers. Annual Conferences coming up and I can’t wait to meet up with everyone, again or for the first time in person!

The Disabled Access Friendly Campaign, for all their work and excellent material from contributors we can all use to raise awareness on what people with mobility disability face daily and where we as teachers can step in and make a difference.

TEFL Equity Advocates, because ‘discrimination’ should be erased from our vocabulary and for Marek Kiczkowiak‘s initiative and strength to keep this movement going.

iTDi, for being precisely ”for teachers, by teachers” and the continuous development opportunities and support it offers all educators. The iTDiBlog is simply a treasure.

Future Library, for the passion, the creativity and the constant efforts to make the library of the future a reality. The Hub is their, and our, unique social network.

YWCA Greece, for the wonderful women I’ve worked with over the years, our local, national and international projects and the continuous work in all communities to inform and empower women.