#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

#PBL Zone – The 1to1

It’s been quite a ride these last three months – didn’t do much on the blog, or nothing more like, decided instead to focus on 1) the students and our combined efforts to take learning forward and 2) a lot on myself (but that’s a different story and post altogether).

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I’ve always been a huge fan of projects, the ideas and series of activities that take whole classes out on magic rides and paths of discovery. I’ve also always wondered whether a project could work equally well for 1-to-1 courses. In theory, a private course is much easier to plan and handle than a school course; there’s one person there to work with, needs-assessment is easy, you can take personalized learning to another level and, as an extra teacher perk, you can build and work on your own material. The one issue to tackle: there’s only one person there to work with. Through the years, working in classes with varied numbers of students and implementing projects either as extension to the course or full project-based courses (not many of them sadly and I could never accept why most Directors were so reluctant to agree to them) , the common denominator of success has always been interaction. Peer learning was what brought hidden talents to surface and assisted skills building. A 1-to-1 course lacks that obviously, so I’ve held back from suggesting PBL to private students. This year though, I reconsidered the options and as students I’ve had for almost six years now have reached the point where they don’t really need me anymore, apart from when it comes to exam preparation, I thought it was time we took things further and worked on what they now want and need to put their efforts in.

While in the past we used at least some ready-made material, a coursebook here and a grammar book there, this September, me and three of my kids set off on a different journey: exploring our interests and how they shape our learning generally and learning English more specifically.
Three students, three projects. Literature, Music and Dancing. We brainstormed, we planned, we’ve been editing and shaping. We’ve been busy and happy. We’ve been learning; not from scratch, but from within. I’ve been keeping my notes and they’ve been reflecting on their efforts. Sample? Sure. Here’s Nick’s Tumblr. More to follow from all of them.

The whole universe can come into a private course and in all sorts of ways. To get that peer input, we went with assessment. All three students have been reviewing each others’ work, making suggestions, providing feedback. We’re moving forward hand-in-hand.

As all three projects are still ongoing, I’ll be posting updates and results along the way. And to close this first post on their wonderful work and our amazing time together, I’d just like to say I’m immensely proud of my kids and finally quite comfortable to sit aside, watch and assist them while they find their own way in learning.

And here we are…