The bravery of seeded apples

So we’re sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, silent but determined. It’s a Sunday and we’ve got a crate of pomegranates to sort through; he has that faint smile, like he knows something he won’t share just yet.

“You always do them in fives. Hold it steadily and trace a line around the top, where you’ll be carving. There’s no need to rush”.
I immediately take six in front of me and begin. Tracing seems easy, I finish all six in less than a minute. Carving…now, this might as well be a full-time job. The skin is too hard, it just won’t give way to the knife. I change positions: tilt the knife slightly to the left, then to the right; maybe vertically? No. I move to the other chair, straighten my legs; then I sit up straight. Still nowhere near the desired result. Over on his side, five pomegranates stand carved and ready and he is still smiling.  I sit back down and as I take a breath, strictly-coursebook-day images begin to spring up: Maria is struggling with her sentence. how many pens do you have got? – do how many pens have got you? – how many pens do have got you?, and she flutters about in her seat and looks at the page in despair while everyone around her has moved on to the next sentence. Let’s make this a group activity – let’s work on something relevant – let’s play with those words. Yes, much better. A good argument to how your brain just downloads information in moments of need. In Maria’s case, group work made all the difference; here, however, it’s only me.

“Did I show you how to carve?” No. I assumed I could do it. “Did you ask me how?” No. I assumed I could do it! It’s expected of me (and is welcome) to seek assistance, but that doesn’t sit well with me at all – not until I’ve tried my hand at something myself. I feel slightly annoyed too, probably because it’s him telling me to ask for help. Could it be an authority issue? More importantly, is that how Giannis and Mike felt everytime I reminded them of my presence and my offer to assist? Possibly. I’m trying to think when and how we reached the point of good communication between us, but all I see is their frustrated faces.

“You’re too focused on the task. But what we’re doing here is simple: hold, trace, carve, scoop out. You just need to remember two things”.

What two things? What things? – I’m thinking but not asking out loud, as my first pomegranate sits in my hand and I’m ready to scoop out the seeds. They’re called arils, I inform him, and in some places this fruit is called a “seeded apple”. Do we have any other words for it in Greek? The spoon stumbles on some black, shrivelled seeds and I feel a sting in my heart. What happened here? And look, there’s a whole cluster of them – yet the fruit has grown around it, all red and plump. Life miniature in a pomegranate; isn’t that true about everything, really? No matter how many difficult moments come, we seem to manage to grow around them.

I know one word only. They must have had a reason to come up with more. Don’t worry about the rotten ones, it happens. Take them out”.

I place that dark cluster carefully on a napkin. Even though it happens to find some rotten ones, it seems unfair to just throw them away. In a rushed attempt to hide how profoundly this little chunk of dead arils has affected me, I explain the origin of the word pomegranate to him; but all this Latin and French and fancy descriptions don’t fool him – he’s still smiling. He might be right, maybe I focus too much and sometimes on the wrong aspect of something – no, not wrong, the less important one. Don’t miss the woods for the trees, shouts professor Katsivanou in my head, standing in front of that huge, scribbled blackboard. She was right too.

We’re nearly done, aren’t we? Two or three more and I can go back to finish that crossword. Popular French comedian and actor, first name Louis – who is that? I’m missing that one”.

De Funés; I remind him of the self-important conductor Stanislas, sneaking around in the kitchen with a lit candle, and he nearly bursts laughing. Somewhere in another pocket of my mind, Mike and Giannis are crying with laughter, while we are watching Peter Kay’s stand-up performance. That was the moment; a good laugh together. Not long after that, they both told me they are glad to know I’m there – they would always try on their own, but knowing someone would jump in if necessary. 

Now there are heaps of seeds and about forty hollowed pomegranates on the table; in keeping with our family Christmas tradition, the first will turn into liquors and jams, the latter into alternative gift wraps. But that’s for another Sunday. 

“What two things should I remember, dad?”

“Be brave but ask for help when you need it. But you remember them anyway, don’t you?”

Looking at that smaller heap of black seeds next to me, I suppose yes, I do. And I know that nothing compares to father-daughter moments.


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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:

Christina_Chorianopoulou

 

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.

#TESOLMacedonia-Thrace 22nd Convention – Highlights & Treats

That time of the year again, when you finally get to see everything you’ve been mentally preparing for, months in advance! After an amazing experience at the 36th TESOLGreece Convention, even though my participation was shorter than I had hoped as I was working that weekend as well, came the time to pack the bags and head off to Thessaloniki. I’ll admit I was really looking forward to some quiet time while there, but as the TESOL Macedonia Thrace Board had honoured me with the proposal to be one of the roving reporters (one of the many yes’s I’ve said and will never regret), ‘quiet time’ just didn’t happen. I got excitement, inspiring discussions, meetings with wonderful people and fun instead.You just have to love the feeling of community in Thessaloniki, that sense of belonging somewhere no matter who you are or where you’re from, which was even more evident throughout the Convention.

Brilliant workshops and plenaries by Marjorie Rosenberg, Ken Wilson, Alec Williams and Andrew Wright and, I have to say, being mentioned in Marjorie Rosenberg’s plenary is no small thing, so a huge thank you Marjorie!
So many excellent sessions and workshops by amazing colleagues, and I have to highlight Danny Singh with his multi-sensory lessons, Vassiliki Mandalou with her truly inspirational session on philosophy and literature and Dagmara Mathes-Sobocinska with her brilliant work on gamification.

And my dear Theodora Papapanagiotou, who gets an extra special treat for being an inspiring colleague, an amazing educator and a wonderful friend (oh yes, special ‘moving’ post coming up!).

A big thank you to the presenters who sacrificed some of their lunch break to be interviewed (!), you were all wonderful and I’m so happy to have met you, and Lana Lemeshko for being a rocking roving reporter along with Theodora and myself!

What more can I say TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, except  ‘thank you’?