RSS Feed

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Teaching is art & science

 

 

My teaching tips and reflections in this post are inspired by some insightful blog posts I have read recently. While pondering the advice that I found useful to EFL teachers, I tried to be a discerning observer of an exceedingly complex ELT picture painted by the confluence of teacher, students, subject matter and the multiple contexts in which they interact.

Just be you!

Be adventurous: reflect, inquire and experiment new teaching methods and strategies, and develop your own teaching style.

A teaching method we use depends on our English language proficiency level, our values and attitudes, and our pedagogical knowledge and practical skills. One of the most desirable qualities of a good teacher is their enthusiasm and willingness to improve their teaching techniques. Introducing and applying a new more effective method entail a proper teacher training and support. If we are, for instance, committed to concepts of learner-centredness and autonomy, we must (know how to) help our learners to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to plan their own learning activities, monitor their progress and evaluate their outcomes.

*School leaders should play a key role in encouraging and advising teachers about high-quality professional training. They should also do their best to develop a school culture of high standards, where team work and collaboration among the colleagues is a norm.

Be genuinely interested in your CPD

Read about pedagogy and research, go to conferences and courses, look for inspiration online (ELT blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc.) where you can find out about new philosophies, new methods and strategies, new ideas… Share your experiences and insights.

Most English teachers do not go to conferences, seminars or courses; still fewer take time to read about pedagogy and research. Lack of time and low pay are mostly the reasons. Preparing and teaching lessons, attending meetings and doing some other unpaid work for school usually take up all teachers’ working hours, often more. Many teachers do not see the point of continuing professional development as their employers do not promote or encourage PD. Also, many teachers have a stereotypical image of researchers as living in an ivory tower, and tend to feel that only working teachers could have credible opinions about good teaching.

*Good teachers are interested in reading the research as they find that personal professional experience gained in the classroom and based on intuition (even when enriched with discussion with colleagues) is never enough. (Penny Ur)

“Evidence-based education is the idea that research of various kinds should be used to inform decisions about teaching and learning. It is conceived of as an alternative to teaching practice that is guided by intuition and/or experience.” (Jonathan Firth: What is evidence-based education)

If you are interested in reading about ELT research you will find a lot of excellent articles on: ELT Research Bites (@ResearchBites), and, on  Evidence Based EFL (@ebefl)     

Provide your students with lots of opportunities to practise English

“Research findings on interlanguage development undermine the credibility and viability of explicit language teaching, synthetic approaches, and PPP.” (Geoff Jordan)

Provide your students with interesting activities in your classes where the language is used communicatively and spontaneously. Recommend some good sites for learning English: podcasts, blogs, e-magazines, YouTube clips, and books and materials they can find in a library, etc. Get students to choose the topics they like to deal with, and bring their own materials/ texts, or get them to do project work, create their own tasks (help them to make reading comprehension questions/ tests/ quizzes, brochures, etc.).  Use English almost all the time in your classes and react to linguistic problems as they arise, thus respecting the learners’ ‘internal syllabus’. 

Understand and explain to your students that language evolves and rules change. Please read about this here:

A new linguistic world by David Crystal

Words in constant motion by Stan Carey 

Be present

Be fully in the moment in order to really see what is happening in the classroom.

Raising awareness of classroom processes and focusing on learning in the classroom require advanced level of proficiency and good pedagogical knowledge (classroom management, lesson planning, syllabus design, observation/ reflection, etc.).

*Good teachers are skilled at observing students in class, analyzing what they see and providing intelligent response (they completely grasp the reflective process of teaching/ learning in the classroom). They are, also, good listeners who are deeply engaged in understanding what students have to say through words, gesture, and action.

 

Enjoy the silence

Silence is an important part of the learning process

Most teachers feel uncomfortable about the periods of silence in their classes, as the atmosphere of a constant buzz of conversation filling the air is generally associated with dynamic and interesting classes.

Silences are part of the learning process: e.g.  a teacher asks a question, students are *silent*, a student raising her/his hand answers the question, the teacher asks the students if they agree/disagree, *silence*, the teacher asks a few random students to respond, students are *silent* and engaged in thinking and making their own questions in order to make clarifications, questions inspire discussion, teacher gives an explanation, etc.

Silence provides time for students to think how to formulate their statements/ questions or how to respond in L2, so we should be patient and wait for 7-8 seconds to give them time to think and respond. Students can use silent thinking periods to think about what they have just read for gist/ in order to summarize it; or they can jot down questions for a teacher, or give the class feedback to a teacher.

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” (W. A. Mozart)

*The periods of silence in the classroom remind me of the rests, intervals of silence in pieces of music which are part of beat-length units. A rhythm and melody of the composition depends on the silence between the notes. If there were no rests there would be no music. Silences make the language classes more dynamic and harmonious.

The First Term Round-Up

20161211_160758

The first term has flown. During the last four months I have enjoyed writing a few posts on my library blog (about book recommendations, one collaborative project), and an article for the school online magazine.

At the end of September I observed an experimental (bilingual) class dedicated to Shakespeare’s 400 year anniversary. The experimental class (Hamlet – the characters) was prepared by my two colleagues: Jelena J.M., an English language teacher, and Ksenija D., a Serbian language teacher. The main aim of the class was to make this difficult topic easier and more interesting for the 4th year students by creating a correlation between the two subjects. The class was enjoyable, the speaking activities and video clips were perfectly chosen, and the students were engaged and interested. I shared my impressions about the class later with my colleagues, and I told them I was going to write a post about that on the library blog.

The library blog posts and my school e-magazine article ‘All the world’s a stage and all the people in it merely players” (on some phrases coined by the Bard), were aimed at encouraging our students to use the Internet for learning on their own, and to motivate our teachers to collaborate and share their good practice, thoughts and ideas.

Our school library is bright and almost always packed with students reading books and magazines, tapping away at the computers, chatting, playing chess… I am really happy to have met Anne Hendler (my PLN friend) in October – she was my guest at the library. You can see Anne in the first picture above. Anne blogs at livinglearning and is @AnneHendler on Twitter

The beauty of the job of a teacher-librarian is that it is never boring. You have some stimulating (or semi-stimulating) conversations with your colleagues, students, school managers, and parents each day. By listening carefully you gain insights into the teaching/learning process at school, and so you have an overview, a bigger picture of the school life and learning.

Here are some issues I have been pondering lately. I hope my thoughts and suggestions are useful:

1.  Teachers are compelled by the school managers and curriculum to devote most of their time to testing and grading students (i.e. preparing formal lesson plans and tests, and doing some unnecessarily bureaucratic work). Students cram for tests in order to get the highest mark and then they forget all they have memorized soon after the test. The tests have a considerable backwash effect on the lessons and made them insufferably boring.

Teachers deserve a better teacher training

Teachers must advocate better teacher training. Most teachers lack knowledge and skill in reflecting on teaching/learning, candid lesson planning, providing monitoring and feedback on their students’ understanding, formal and informal assessment, classroom observation, etc.

“Excellent teachers display a deep representation of pedagogical subject knowledge [the ability to present key concepts to suit the prior learning and ability of the target students]. This is much more than straightforward academic subject knowledge; academic subject knowledge is certainly essential but it does not distinguish expert teachers.” [For more information please read: What makes an excellent teacher by Geoff Jordan on CriticELT

Geoff J. writes in his article The lose-lose folly of coursebook consumption  about the detrimental effects that using coursebooks in ELT has on both teachers and learners:

 “Coursebooks pervade the ELT industry and stunt the growth of innovation and teacher training. The publishing companies that produce coursebooks also produce exams, teacher training courses and everything else connected to ELT…”

 

Students must be proficient users of the Internet

2.  We often assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally savvy about the news and information they encounter online. In my experience, the students are not skilled in finding relevant information online; they are not discerning in evaluating digital content; they do not recognise acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; they struggle to separate fact from fiction online (they don’t know when news is fake).

The skills like digital and media literacy have to be taught at schools as an element of a broad, challenging and comprehensive computing curriculum (and not as a vague part of the 21st-century skills*). It is very important for students to be able to understand ways to use technology safely, respectfully, responsibly and securely. Students also have to be able to judge whether or not a publication or an internet site is trustworthy. They have to know whether a scholarly article is regularly cited.

Some useful links to help you judge information:

Evaluating information

Citing

Plagiarism

Quote Investigator | Tracing Quotations

*“21st-century skills” (any digital learning or use of technology, thinking critically, solving problems, communicating and collaborating effectively) has become a buzz term in ELT today.

I have really enjoyed a series of Mike Griffin’s blog posts on “21st-century skills” buzz entitled Please teach them English. The form of the post is very inventive – it was written as a series of emails and diary entries. The post was prompted by an initial post written by Mike (as a series of emails written by an imaginary language school manager) and then continued with the help of a few guest writers (an imaginary English language teacher and two students with different views). Michael Griffin’s blog is another ELT blog I highly recommend because of Mike’s always interesting, fun and thought provoking posts.

 

Reading makes you smarter

3.  According to the library statistics (the number of students at the library and the number of books borrowed per year) I could write in my annual library reports that our students love reading books. Statistics, as you know, can be very misleading. Our students borrow the books that are on the (Serbian language & literature syllabus) reading list because they are more likely to get a higher mark if they bring the books to class. They generally do not read them, they mostly read the book forewords or reviews before literature classes.

Teachers forget that it is not the pace that makes the classes great. Students should have more time to read, think and dream.. One of the most important goals of the literature classes must be to motivate students to read for pleasure.

Here are some useful ideas: get your students to do tasks/projects: e.g. recommending the books they have just read/enjoyed reading, making quizes about the books and writers, writing a reading diary, creating the reading lists for each school year (with the teacher and school librarian). The Perfect Classroom Gift: A Gift of Words by Jane Hancock is a lovely idea I tried with the students and we had a lot of fun. My gift of words for you – a quote by Emma Goldman:

idealists-foolish-enough-to-throw-caution-to-the-winds-have-advanced-mankind-and-have-enriched-the-world

1f3bc

Thanks for reading my blog 🙂

HAPPY NEW YEAR

September Reflections

tasos-limenas-096

There is something truly exciting about September…You are full of energy and enthusiasm after summer holiday. You are surrounded with some beautiful young people radiating joy while telling you their summery stories. September is the time of year when you reflect on the previous school year, and think about what went well, what could be improved this school year, and what you want to focus on in the coming year.

 

What went well last year

I learnt a lot from my students, colleagues and through my PLN. There were a lot of wonderful opportunities at the library to learn by listening to my students, collaborating with my colleagues, and sharing thoughts and ideas with my colleagues and friends from all over the world. Writing and blogging, reading books and listening to podcasts helped me to hone my English language skills.

Students were my constant source of inspiration. Students who loved spending their time at the library, reading, preparing tasks, and making video clips for their Aviation English classes… I enjoyed chatting with them, helping them with English, and recommending some useful books and sites for learning. They were particularly interested in: how to enrich their vocabulary in order to speak English fluently.

I truly enjoyed autonomy to plan my work and activities with students and teachers at the library. I had more time to read for pure pleasure, or to do what I found useful for my professional development. And I was so fulfilled.

 

What could be improved

I should not be sensitive to the general opinion that a profession of a teacher-librarian is uninteresting, or not as dynamic, challenging, or important as teaching.

Also, I should improve my time management skills. I usually work late and spend a lot of time online (I enjoy reading and writing at night). A lot of coffee (or green tea) usually helps in the morning, but I hope to change this habit soon. Also, I tend to do the stuff I enjoy doing first, and to put off till later something so dull and formulaic like cataloguing books, for example, and thus there are so many books waiting to be put into my computer programme b++.

 

What I want to focus on in the coming year

Collaborating with teachers on some CLIL/TBLT projects, writing articles for my two blogs: English language teaching & my Library blog, and also for our school e-journal Vazduhoplovac (Aviator).

I’ve been musing lately about starting an English club at the library for the students who are interested in improving English. There is a large smallish, but lovely group of students who read my blogs, and who have told me lately that they would like to spend more time at the library reading and speaking English with me. Some of them told me that their classes were boring and they were not willing to speak English for fear of making grammar mistakes.

I am currently thinking about how to provide the students with lots of structured opportunities to hear and read English. These are some of the tenets that came to my mind while thinking about this idea: 

  • students should be responsible for their own learning (we should explore the language and learn together)
  • we negotiate the syllabus, topics, time and the way the students want to learn, each month (process syllabus)
  • students enrich their vocabulary by doing a plenty of language activities and tasks (more time for student-generated language)
  • grammatical concepts are presented in context, students are encouraged to reflect on the form and purpose of the structure before giving a name to it (inductive approach)
  • students reflect on their learning (discussing, creating portfolio, learning log, an online journal or using Twitter)

 

Some materials and activities that could be interesting for students:

Graded readers – for practising extensive reading (e.g. Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals, OUP)

ELT magazines for teenagers, Airport magazines and brochures (for TBLT/CLIL projects)

Love – in literature & music & art (project work/ or: Five Love(ly) Lesson Ideas activities)

Flash fiction (Students write six word stories/ short stories up to 100 words: about themselves, or they look through the window, or choose a photo in their mobile phone, etc. and write whatever comes first to their mind/ a tweet up to 140 characters on the book they have read or the film they have seen recently)

Spooky Science (Instruction for play: two decks of cards, one in Serbian and one in English. Each deck contains: 54 cards with questions and four multiple-choice answers, 4 Joker cards and 2 master cards for the Judges with all the right answers. Two players from the same team collect more cards than the opposing team and win the game.)

Logic and Conversation: What are Grice’s conversational maxims (reading on the Net, and discussing logical thinking & logical fallacies)

Podcast – Cultural differences (Luke’s English Podcast: 381. Discussing cultural differences (with Amber and Paul)

#FlashmobELT  (teachers’ resources bank: activities created by teachers for teachers)

Interesting blog ideas: Cool things that happened today/this week/this month (writing & speaking activity)

file0001877445172

This idea might sound pretty unrealistic for a Serbian public secondary school: motivating teenagers to learn English on their own, without grading them, just helping them to explore the language and see the importance of reflecting on how and what they have learnt! I promise to write about the English club, or some other similar learning adventure in the ensuing months.

My Top Ten Favourite Podcasts

CY1XJpwWUAAJkbj

21st century skills in action. (a photo and tweet by @C_Hendrick)

Teaching is a lifelong learning process of finding out about new philosophies, new methods and strategies, learning from the experts, learning from colleagues, and also learning together with your students. Good teaching is not about knowing how to use a lot of educational apps and following the 21st century skills trend without truly questioning it, without realizing what a really meaningful learning is.

One of the most effective ways of using the Internet for learning about the world and for practising English both inside and outside the classroom is podcastListening to podcasts (on a daily basis) can be very useful for improving your listening and speaking skills. Podcasts give you the chance to listen to various accents and varieties of English, and also to listen to the topics you are really interested in. Almost all of the podcasts are free to download (you can upload them to your mp3 player, or just listen to the file on your computer too).

Podcasts that I enjoy listening to are not intended just for the English language learning. They cover many subjects from science to philosophy, art, social science, linguistics, etc., and they are for all the students/teachers who are curious and passionate about learning.

 

This is a list of my ten favourite podcast sites:

Latest (national and international) news stories, a lot of insights, intelligent analyses, big political stories with lively discussion and expert comments and analysis, the best new comedies, and a lot more can be found on BBC Radio 4.

If you have an inquisitive mind and thirst for knowledge you’ll enjoy fun and interesting podcasts on Radiolab. You can read on the site: Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.

Space Place Musings: Podcasts are for those who are fond of science and earth & space exploration.

Open Culture offers 100s of cultural and educational podcasts ready to load onto your iPod.

A Podcast about Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics is an excellent podcast site for English language teachers.

“The social world is a world we create, that we all have in common. In this series of illuminating podcasts, hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.”

  • Philosophy Bites – podcasts of top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics…

You can enjoy listening to Philosophy Bites interviews (podcasts) of excellent lecturers, and they are arranged by theme here.

New Statesman runs two weekly podcasts covering politics, policy and the arts.

This is ‘the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion. You can listen to most interesting discussions and enjoy in the company of some of the world’s sharpest minds and most exciting orators.”

 

I suggest using podcasts in the English language classroom: while discussing various topics that are relevant to your students you can learn with your students, too.  You can get your students to do a project work, or debates/discussions on:

  • the philosophy that planet Earth does not belong just to us humans, but to all species
  • how to save the life on our beautiful planet, how to adapt to the impacts of global warming (with focus on environmental issues and the fact that developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt)
  • how to fight against greed and hatred and ignorance
  • how to encourage independent and rational thinking and fight against dogmatic, irrational beliefs
  • how to deconstruct all of the messages we’re getting that are false, that may be racist, or sexist
  • how to change our ideas about masculinity and femininity, how to fight against gender stereotypes, or cultural stereotypes, etc.

The most important of all is to teach our students how to have a skeptical look at the facts. They need to learn to question the truth of what they’re told by asking themselves: Can I prove it? Can I test it? Is it evidence-based? How accurate is it? Our students do have to learn logical thinking, the process of argument, the process of presenting facts, of proving their point of view; they need to learn that our first thoughts are very often not our best thoughts, that disagreement can be negotiated, and so on.

“Philosophy teaches its students to become thoughtful and reflective, and so to know themselves better. By so doing it opens them up to being careful about their own ideas and habits of thought. It is a matter of opening the questioning mind, taking charge of ideas, rather than being enslaved by them.” (Why there should be a philosophy GCSE, by Simon Blackburn, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge).

Listening to podcasts will bring a fresh impetus to our language learning/teaching. Also, hearing some intelligent discussions by great lecturers, their perceptive insights and interesting ideas can broaden our horizons, and even make us change some false beliefs. And, changing one’s opinions or strong beliefs is usually much more difficult than most of you think.

Thank you for reading the post. If you have any idea about how to use podcasts in the English language classroom, or if you have your favourite podcast site(s), please share in the comments.

Why is doing tasks the best way to learn? (some thoughts on TBLT)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

When you think about the job of a librarian, the first thing that comes to mind is something to do with books: buying, cataloging, preserving, recommending books to students and teachers. In this post I wanted to show that an English language teacher-librarian is also a key pedagogical partner for teachers in school.

During this school year I talked with students about the books they loved, about how to learn effectively, how to find reliable information on the Internet, how to write well… I can remember many great moments, but the highlight of the school year was my participation in a few TBLL activities at the library. My main aim in the post was to illustrate how TBLT (task-based language teaching) was feasible, and effective in EFL/ESL secondary school classroom, and how an English language teacher – librarian could participate and help students do the tasks successfully.

In March this year a group of 4th year students (Milica, Dušica, Anastasija and Andrea) prepared a task and created a video clip for an ESP class. My participation in this task was in providing the students with the materials they needed, taking some photos, and giving them some help with pronunciation (of the words like: process, circumstances…). I was glad that they liked my ‘Aristotle philosophy box’, and that they used it while making the clip. And we had a lot of fun. 🙂

 

English for Specific Purposes TBLT Lesson:  A plan of evacuation of a building

A group of four 4th year students (B2 level) created a clip (about 8 minutes long) – A Plan of evacuation of Hogwarts (which was set on fire by Lord Voldemort). They told me that the idea came to their mind as their teacher Jelena J.M. loves Harry Potter books. That was a fabulous idea, and very funny, too!  They recorded the Hogwarts news at the library, and the commercials: magic wand & magic chalk, in the school corridor. Ministry of Magic presented an elaborate plan of evacuation of the building. (Unfortunately, I could not embed the clip in the post as my blog does not support it, but I really enjoyed watching it.)

Pre-task
The English language teacher introduced the topic by giving some explanations and helped the students to recall some language (key vocabulary regarding a plan of evacuation of a building) that might be useful for the task. The students took notes and spent time preparing for the task.

Task
The students completed the task using the language resources that they had.  The teacher-librarian assisted and offered encouragement while the students practised and rehearsed their roles. Then the students made a video clip with their smartphone at the library, and in the school corridor.

Planning
The students prepared a short oral report to tell the class what happened during their task. They then practised what they were going to say in their groups. The teacher-librarian helped the students to clear up any language questions they had.

Report
Before the English language teacher played the video clip to others in the classroom the students reported back to the class what had happened during their task.  The teacher gave the students some quick feedback on the content.

Analysis
The teacher then highlighted relevant parts from the text of the recording and the language that the students used during the report phase for analysis.

Practice
Finally, the teacher selected language areas to practise based upon the needs of the students and what emerged from the task and report phases. The students then did speaking and writing practice activities to increase their confidence and make a note of useful language.

 

What is the task-based approach?

TBLT is a strong communicative approach to language instruction which aims to provide learners with a natural context for language use. As learners work to complete a task, they have abundant opportunity to interact. Instruction is organized in such a way that students will improve their language ability by focusing on getting something done while using the language, rather than on explicitly practising language forms, as in more traditional methods of instruction. Content selection is based on the needs of the learners and they are encouraged to activate and use whatever language they already have in the process of completing a task. The most important tenets of the TBLT are: the provision of opportunities for learners to focus not only on language but also on the learning process itself, and the linking of classroom language learning with language use outside the classroom.

My thoughts on TBLT (regarding my TBLT experience)

  • TBLT is a learner-centred approach, and the focus is on collaborative learning.
  • The active involvement of the learners is central to the approach.
  • It offers learners a rich input of target language.
  • The students are exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns (the focus is on meaning as well as on form).
  • It is enjoyable and (intrinsically) motivating.
  • It can be used together with a more traditional approach.
  • It involves a high level creativity and dynamism on the part of the teacher.
  • It requires resources beyond the textbooks and related materials generally available in EFL classrooms.
  • Some students may object to task-based language learning in that this type of instruction is not what they expect and want from a language class.
  • Teachers (or facilitators) should take into account the learning context, and they need to negotiate with learners to ensure that they are motivated and happy to learn in that way.

As I don’t know much about TBLT, this was an interesting and useful experience. I’m interested in exploring TBLT in the next few months. I also hope to do a lot more collaborative projects with the English language teachers at my school (not only ESP, but General English, too).

 

Further reading on TBLT

Mike Long, Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.

Real Tasks Guide Long’s TBLT by Geoff Jordan https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/real-tasks-guide-longs-tblt/

Dave and Jane Willis, Doing Task-Based Teaching, OUP 2007.

http://www.willis-elt.co.uk/conferences.html

David Nunan, Task-Based Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

http://www.educ.ualberta.ca/staff/olenka.bilash/best%20of%20bilash/task-based%20language%20teaching.pdf

Rod Ellis, Task-based Language Learning and Teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

 

Some thoughts on blogging and using Twitter for PD

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I believe in lifelong learning, and I have always thought that learning is more an adventure than a journey. An adventure is more exciting, it implies that you love to try something new and challenging, and that you enjoy exploring and discovering about the world on your own.

My blogging and Twitter adventure started about three years ago when I created this blog as an assignment for an online seminar. Blogging helps me to improve my writing, and to reflect and develop my own thoughts about EFL teaching and learning, and education in general. While diving into many topics, I can get insights and learn by viewing from different angles and discerning the differences about the topic. I am sometimes confused because of many contradictory ideas, but, through blogging I can clarify my thoughts as when I write something down and explain it in such detail in a blog post I end up understanding it myself.

In one of my first blog posts I compared learning a language to playing the piano, and teaching to conducting an orchestra. This image sprang to my mind while thinking about my classes which sometimes were as enjoyable as the piano concerto in the post, usually they were quite good, but I can remember some disharmonious lesson failures. Creating a good classroom dynamics and atmosphere conducive to learning can be difficult even for an experienced teacher.

I enjoyed musing and composing a poem Teacher cocktail, about what makes a good teacher (the post was inspired by an activity from Teaching Grammar Creatively by Scott Thornbury, Gunter Gerngross and Herbert Puchta).

However, nothing in ELT is as simple as it often seems to so many people, and it is really impossible to make a recipe for a good teaching. The way we teach depends on the context, purpose of learning a language, our students and their abilities and preferences; it also depends on our beliefs, knowledge and skill.

I described my struggle and Challenges of introducing and using communicative language teaching in my school.  In My dream job and reality  I wrote how an exploitative educational system and teaching against our beliefs and opinions about what is right and professional can considerably dampen our enthusiasm. We must advocate better professional development, and press for improved conditions and for change (as it is obvious that ELT has become an industry focused much more on making a profit than making a genuine quality).

One of the prevailing Misconceptions regarding learning & teaching is that course books are useful for students because they provide them with controlled grammar / vocabulary practice and give them a sense of improvement. Course books give students the feeling that they can control what is going on, they know the main grammar rules and vocabulary (that is used in the course book), they can pass tests and may have the illusion that they know language well. However, learning a language is much more complex than learning grammar: students can recite grammar rules, but cannot sustain a conversation as they lack vocabulary and fluency.

In the post About truth, knowledge and Russell’s teapot I explained that not to be absolutely certain is one of the essential things in rationality.  I pointed out the importance of distinguishing between pseudoscience and scientifically valid ideas mentioning some well-known neuromyths in ELT.

The beauty of the unknown is about the importance of valuing intellectual curiosity and sceptical reasoning. We should appreciate “unknowledge” and the likelihood of surprises much more than “our incomplete, imperfect, infinitesimal-in absolute-terms knowledge”.

Knowledge isn’t a matter of owning a truth by making it familiar and then asserting its ideal presentation, but quite the opposite – an eternal tango with the unfamiliar (Hegel).

The greatest pleasure of browsing books at a library or a second-hand bookshop is serendipity of finding something that you did not know existed, and that is deeply interesting or connected with your intellectual interests of the moment.

picture-4

On Twitter I follow some great English language teachers, linguists, some art, science, philosophy teachers, writers, astronauts…. I particularly like people who are open to new ideas, and who are not afraid to express their opinions freely. Also, I think that ideas should be open to robust debate. We live in a culture where people often form their “opinions” based on superficial impressions or passively accept some ideas without investing the time and critical thought into it. Thus controversy is good as it makes us reflect and change such opinions.

What I especially like about Twitter is the short length of tweets (140 characters) which forces the writer to be succinct, and the random character of tweets which makes Twitter lively and dynamic.

I mostly tweet about English language learning/teaching, books, music, science… I am pretty selfish on Twitter as I tweet what I find interesting and fun/funny. I occasionally check some ELT hashtags: #ELT, #KELTchat, #ELTchat, #ELTpics, #makeamovieTESL etc. [Hashtag is an easy way to group all tweets related to a topic that interests us. The symbol is used in music, too >> # is called “sharp” in music]

One of the negative sides of Twitter is that it can be addictive (like any other social media). I read (I can’t remember where exactly) that it is because with every small burst of information the brain receives, it releases dopamine, the same pleasure chemical released when we eat chocolate, fall in love, or take drugs. If you have any (good) suggestion(s)/advice regarding the information overload and distraction, please write in the comments. 🙂

Photos_Ljilja 1177

I am enjoying reading Erich Fromm’s “Man for himself” at the moment. Fromm writes: “Living itself is an art – in fact the most important and at the same time the most difficult and complex art to be practised by man.” I fully agree and I would only add: Try to have time for yourselves, for your pleasures, for daydreaming, even for boredom. Go for long walks, ride your bike or do some sport, and sleep well… And do not be afraid to be idealists and dreamers.

How to be a Better Listener

Peanuts - A better listener

 

A few months ago I attended an interesting seminar on Active listening. In this post I would like to share some insights and practical tips about how to become a better listener.

Being a good listener is one of the most important skills of a good teacher/learner. When you really listen, you demonstrate your interest in what is being said and you show your genuine and sincere respect for the individual saying it.

Good listening skills are needed to assess whether your students understand what they are being taught, and also to develop empathy and understanding with them. Active listening is an intent to “listen for meaning”, in which the listener checks with the speaker to see that a statement has been correctly heard and understood. The goal of active listening is to improve mutual understanding, i.e. to avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

Stages of active listening

The first stage of active listening is to try to really listen and sense the real, underlying meaning of what is being said. You should listen for ideas, implications and feelings, as well as the facts being conveyed. Try not to close your ears to words you do not want to hear and only hear the words you want to hear.

The second stage is to interpret, or reconstruct, what is being said, remembering always that words have different meanings to different people. Do your best to listen with full attention, and withhold judgment, assumption and criticism at this stage.

The third stage is to evaluate what is being said, only after you have made a reasonably objective interpretation of the message. At this point you should reflect on the information and options being presented, and sift through the evidence.

The fourth stage is responding. Here you demonstrate that you have a real interest in what the other person is saying, and that you have truly been listening. Reassuring the speaker that you have been giving him full attention is a critical aspect of constructive listening. Feedback is usually given by asking for clarification or for more information, or at least giving some visible acknowledgment by making small remarks such as “Ah ha”, or smiling, nodding or frowning.

[http://www.acs.edu.au/info/education/trends-opinions/listening-skills.aspx]

Here are five ways to increase your listening abilities:

  1. When listening try not to be distracted by other things that are going on around, but focus on the speaker.
  2. Pay attention not only to the words but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This will give you information that will be as important as the words themselves.
  3. Do not keep interrupting or trying to change the topic; wait a few seconds after the person finishes speaking to make sure they have finished their thoughts.
  4. Do not think and rehearse in your head of how you are going to reply instead of listening.
  5. Do not be afraid to ask the speaker to explain something you have not understood.

In the classroom, it is not always easy to empathise with your students’ viewpoint. Personality clashes, age/status/cultural differences are just some of the obstacles to empathic listening and communication between the teacher and students. Despite this, genuine communication between teacher and student can only occur by showing a willingness to try to understand the students’ feelings. When they are speaking, make an effort to think of where they are coming from, imagine what their life is like and what struggles they might be facing. Empathic listening in the classroom promotes honest communication and builds trust and confidence, reduces tension, enhances the students’ self- respect, and keeps communication active and alive.

For example, in the following dialogue, a teacher (T) provides feedback to a student (S) by guessing the student’s implied message and then asking for confirmation.

S:  I don’t like this school as much as my old one.

T: You are unhappy at this school?

S: Yeah. I haven’t made any good friends.

T: You feel left out and lonely here?

S: Yeah. I wish I knew more people.

Some of the ways teachers can convey the genuine desire to understand are:

  • Listen in a friendly way – Create a positive atmosphere with your nonverbal behaviour (your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice: don’t cross your arms, use appropriate eye contact, have a sincere tone of voice,…).
  • Be interested in the students’ needs – do not be judgmental and do not criticize.
  • Act like a mirror – reflect what you think is being said and try to paraphrase (“Are you saying…”, “You seem…”, “If I understood you correctly, you ….”)
  • Never belittle or negate any aspect of a problem, even if it seems unimportant to you. Don’t brush aside the person’s feeling with phrases like ‘It’s not that bad’ or ‘you’re making a mountain out of a molehill’.
  • Don’t get emotionally involved, angry, upset or argumentative. You need to remain professional in your interactions with students, as you are a role model and the students are looking up to you for guidance and direction.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions or judgments about any students. Try not to have any pre-conceived ideas about any student based on what you may have heard from another colleague or former teacher.

It is really important that your students see that you have enough regard for them to give undivided attention to what they wish to say. By using active listening with students, you build the relationship of trust and caring essential to students’ motivation to learn.

 

Language is wine upon the lips

Photos_Ljilja 1442

These are some articles I have enjoyed reading recently, on language, culture, education, and more. I hope that you find a few items of interest in this batch of links from recent weeks.

1.  The writer’s job is to change the world.  “I think an author should write what the reader does not expect. The problem is not to ask what they need, but to change them…”  (Umberto Eco: ‘Real literature is about losers’ )

2.  People are incredibly receptive to meaningless buzzwords, and the vast majority of people are willing to believe complete bullshit. Pseudo-profundity is the art of sounding profound while talking tosh. Unlike the art of actually being profound, the art of sounding profound is not particularly difficult to master.”

3.  Harvard Guide to Using Sources. (A very useful Guide which introduces you to the fundamentals of using sources in academic papers.)

4.  Culture and Society: An all-women panel (Ien Ang, Larissa Behrendt, Robyn Archer, Bridget Kendall) takes up this debate on Australian Stereotypes and Cultural Identity at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. This event was presented by the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Centre.

5.  Can education be judged on simple customer satisfaction? We assume that if students are satisfied with a course then the teacher has done a good job and the students have learnt a lot. Or have they? Do students know what is best for their own learning?  You can read about this here.

6.  Teachers are unsure how much importance they should give to grammar, what grammar they should teach, and how they should teach it. 

According to the British most eminent linguists who came together for English Grammar Day (presented by UCL and Oxford University in association with the British Library last year), it’s an exciting time for grammar. But there’s a need for fresh thinking and the word itself can be misleading. The main focus of the discussion was on the problems with how grammar is taught in schools.

“You have to put the notion of grammar in the background. It’s about meaning and clarity. Clarity unites us. I’m not afraid to use the word grammar, but I can see why people would be.” (David Crystal)

Why grammar lessons should be renamed ‘understanding language’

Michael Swan: Teaching grammar – Does grammar teaching work? 

 

virginia-woolf-author-language-is-wine-upon-the

 

7.  I love WORDS as “Words are delicious and intoxicating. They do much more than just denote; they have appearance, sound, a feel in the mouth, and words they sound like and travel with. All of these participate in the aesthetic experience of the word and can affect communication. So why not taste them like a fine wine?”

 About Word Tasting Notes –  Sesquiotica (Words, words, words) 

 Alice in Blenderland (by Stan Carey on Macmillan Dictionary Blog)

Stan Carey’s older posts on words and language for Macmillan Dictionary can be viewed here.    

8.  Mondegreens – Words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement or song lyric.

The term mondegreen was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright and popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. The term was inspired by “Lady Mondegreen,” a misinterpretation of the line “hae laid him on the green,” from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o Moray.”

e.g.

“Excuse me while I kiss this guy” (for the Jimi Hendrix lyric, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”)

“The ants are my friends” (for “The answer, my friend,” in “Blowing in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan)

“She’s got a chicken to ride.” (for  “She’s got a ticket to ride.” Ticket to Ride, The Beatles)

“You and me and Leslie.” (for  “You and me endlessly…”  Groovin’, The Rascals)

9.  This is an odd poem I’ve created by some interesting searches leading to my blog:

Poppies

wisdom begins in wonder

how to enrich our vocabulary

it is a very good idea to have a vocabulary notebook

stay hungry stay foolish early morning

rilke english to french at the bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life

something interesting happened during the holidays

the studio was filled with the rich smell of roses

he wishes for the cloths of heaven lesson plan

English listenings about dreams

teaching is more an art than a science

10.  Zodiac signs for linguists you can find on Superlinguo 

comic2-2804Dinosaur comics: So you want to learn English

HAPPY NEW YEAR 🙂

A few quotes I like about education and reading books

Eleven Things (a blog challenge)

I have been snowed under with work lately, so I am daydreaming at the moment of travelling to a beautiful sunny and peaceful place like this one in the picture above (the photo was taken last summer in Varadero, Cuba by my friend Milena M.). 

The Simple Joy of Reading

The aim of the activities described in this post is to encourage the habit of reading books and to kindle imagination and creativity in your students. 

Challenges of introducing/using CLT in Serbian public schools

file7181279389027

Read the rest of this entry

The use of video as a starting point for a lesson

Read the rest of this entry

What Is Your Personal Theme Song?

This blog post was inspired by a great idea of writing about our personal theme song by Shelly Terrell and Vicky Loras. As I found it very difficult to choose just one personal theme song, I decided to write about a few songs or compositions I love listening to, either for pleasure, or because they remind me of some interesting moments in my life.

I have always loved music and languages, and I have always been interested in the correlation between music training and learning languages. The languages that I love most because of their intonation and rhythm are English and Italian. In fact, they have a very different sound system and prosody, but both languages are very melodious and sound really wonderful to me.

The first song I would like to mention here is the Italian song ‘Donna con te’. I was fascinated by the song the first time I heard it, about twenty years ago. It was because of Anna Oxa’s amazing performance and her beautiful voice, and, also, because I was studying Italian then and was in love with the Italian music, culture, and really beautiful language..

Quanti ricordi dietro me
li segnerò nel diario della vita…

 

Read the rest of this entry

I Think I Love You

Source of Inspiration

rain on flowers2

I think I love you,
but how do I know?
Can I love you enough
to let you go?

Can I help you follow
your dream, clearing the
path for you, opening
every door? Can I love
you even when you don’t
love me? When I see your
passion for another,
when you leave me
like a forgotten toy?

Can love be so unselfish
that it needs only to
give to the beloved? Can
I need only to receive
the joy of knowing
you are happy?

View original post

Grammaring

Looking down 19 Read the rest of this entry

The Arctic Light

THE ARCTIC LIGHT

This was filmed between 29th April and 10th May 2011 in the Arctic, on the archipelago Lofoten in Norway.

Watch the video clip and answer the questions:

1. Did you enjoy the magnificent show of colour and light? Can you describe the colours?
2. Did you like the background music composed by the young and talented composer Marika Takeuchi? Why?
3. What were you thinking about while you were listening to the composition? How did you feel?
4. Did the photographer have a very difficult trip? What happened to him during the trip?
5. How long has the photographer been going up there to take photographs and make the film of the Arctic light?
6. Was he happy because he had succeeded in making such an amazing film about the Arctic light?

The Art of Humour

 

Woody Allen, The Art of Humor No. 1

Most of Woody Allen’s films deal with recurring themes on relationships, sexuality, literature, psychoanalysis, and often portray a self-reflexive neurotic writer in New York City. I am a great fan of his films and adore his intellectual, sarcastic and self-deprecating sense of humour. I have compiled some of Woody Allen’s funny and insightful quotes that were taken either from his interviews or from the characters of his movies. Read the rest of this entry

Listening practice – Dreams, dreams

Reading or listening practice every day is a very good workout for your brain and the best way to improve your English. Practise listening to English and enjoy soft melodious voice of Lily Allen.

LISTENING PRACTICE

1.Complete the lyrics of the song with the words below.

stories reminiscing reminding feeling
remember memories dreams friends

“Littlest Things”

Sometimes I find myself sittin’ back and __________
Especially when I have to watch other people kissin’
And I __________ when you started callin’ me your miss’s
All the play fightin’, all the flirtatious disses
I’d tell you sad __________ about my childhood
I don’t know why I trusted you but I knew that I could
We’d spend the whole weekend lying in our own dirt
I was just so happy in your boxers and your t-shirt

[Chorus]
Dreams, Dreams
Of when we had just started things
Dreams of you and me
It seems, It seems
That I can’t shake those __________
I wonder if you have the same __________ too.

The littlest things that take me there
I know it sounds lame but it’s so true
I know it’s not right, but it seems unfair
That the things are __________ me of you
Sometimes I wish we could just pretend
Even if only for one weekend
So come on, Tell me
Is this the end?

Drinkin’ tea in bed
Watching DVD’s
When I discovered all your dirty grotty magazines
You take me out shopping and all we’d buy is trainers
As if we ever needed anything to entertain us
the first time that you introduced me to your __________
and you could tell I was nervous, so you held my hand
when I was __________ down, you made that face you do
There’s no one in the world that could replace you

[Chorus]

2.Use the words from the exercise 1 and write a poem or a short story.

Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow

Image

 

The brain needs exercise in much the same way our muscles do, and the right mental workouts can significantly improve our basic cognitive functions. Thinking is essentially a process of making neural connections in the brain and since these connections are made through effort and practice, scientists believe that intelligence can expand and fluctuate according to mental effort.

 

READING PRACTICE

Read the text Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow, Swedish Study Suggests Then read the sentences below and decide if they are true (T) or false (F).

  1. The author of the text suggests that learning languages is a good way to keep the brain in a good state of health.
  2. At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy in the city of Uppsala, young people with a knack for languages go from having basic knowledge of a language such as Arabic, Russian or Dari to speaking it fluently in the period of 13 months.
  3. The Swedish scientists have measured brains before and after language training and suggest that language learning makes the brain grow.
  4. As a control group, the researchers used physics students at Umeå University – students who study very hard but do not study languages.
  5. The scientists were not surprised that different parts of the brain developed to different degrees depending on how well the students performed and how much effort they had had to make during the course.
  6. The areas of the brain in which the changes occur are thus linked to how easy one finds it to learn a language and development varies according to performance.
  7. Previous research from other groups has indicated that bilingual or multilingual groups have no chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

 

[Answers: 1.T,  2.F,  3.T,  4.F,  5.F,  6.T,  7. F]

 

Complete the sentences with the words: BRAIN or MIND. Check their use in a dictionary: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/

Marie has an amazing __________ (= is very intelligent).
That can’t possibly be the right way to do it – use your __________!
Her __________ was full of what had happened the night before, and she just wasn’t concentrating.
Of course I’m telling the truth – you’ve got such a suspicious __________!
The poor child inherited his mother’s __________ and his father’s looks.
He’s got __________ but he’s too lazy to use them (= he is clever but lazy).
I just said the first thing that came into my __________.
I’m not quite clear in my __________ about what I’m doing.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/10/portraits-of-the-mind-visualizing-the-brain/65292/