Measuring not measurable

He annoyed me. The guy in university. Besides secretly fancying him, I got awfully irritated every time we had an English lesson together. Because he was THE master of the language. He always got the best marks and had such self-confidence in him, I couldn’t but get annoyed by him. And then once it all boiled over. We had one-to-one progress chat with our teacher. During the talk she handed me yet another essay I had written but failed to get a good enough mark. I remember bursting out, ‘What’s wrong again? Why cannot I get the best mark? I worked so hard? And anyway, what does HE do better?’ (childish? maybe, but also very sincere…) And then this teacher told me something that has stuck with me like a wet autumn leaf gets stuck under your shoe sole. ‘He plays it safe. Always. He knows exactly what he’s doing. But you take risks. Always. You trod into unsafe alleys and dare to fail.’

Back at the time it had no effect on me. I was too focused on my failures and ‘bad’ marks and I didn’t buy any of this beautiful talk about risks and alleys. But a month ago the old story surfaced, it rose into the light, into piercing light so that I saw clearly, understood and then sank into deep and troublesome reflection about what on earth should I now do with all the knowledge and understanding. Let me explain.

This year I have a boy in one of the groups, who, before coming to my class, had never had an English lesson before. He’s (was) a complete beginner. If you’ve been reading this blog before, you know that my biggest challenge and worry is extremely mixed-level classes. I have to teach students whose language levels range between A1 – B2. So this poor chap found himself in a group of language learners who could all more or less make themselves understood and definitely comprehended everything that was going on  in the lesson. He, on the other hand, was utterly lost the first weeks, but then after many talks with me, lots of encouragement, additional help and incredible willpower of his own, started getting slowly onto his English feet. He learned hard, revised a lot before tests and got pretty decent results. The last exam of the semester was a written description of two people students could see on the screen. Students had to answer simple questions ‘What’s he wearing? What’s he carrying? What does he look like’ Now, he could have played it safe, like the guy back at university. He had definitely learned the vocabulary and had mastered the basic sentence structure by then. But he didn’t. Instead he wrote like a poet. He tried to play with the language, he used comparisons, was funny, and beautifully imaginative. And I could see it all shine through. I could see clearly everything he wanted to do, aspired for. But couldn’t. Not yet. He tried to fly, to soar high, but his wings are yet too small to carry him up there. So he basically plummeted to the ground. His writing was drowning in mistakes and the mark reflected that. I don’t know if my long and encouraging and hopefully inspiring personal comment at the end of the writing did any good. Maybe he even failed to read it. Maybe he was so disappointed and discouraged when seeing the mark he crumpled his anger together with the sheet and threw it into a bin. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I am awfully disappointed too. And sad. And lost. Because I have started to wonder if we shouldn’t evaluate effort too. I mean, this guy is struggling along students who don’t even need to revise in order to pass the test. They’ve already acquired the knowledge and skills needed for this particular level. So of course, they simply turn up, jot down all they know and then walk away smugly knowing they’ve got another best mark in store for them. But the guy works hard to learn the material, he sweats his way through the lessons and trembles through tests and then never gets the best mark. I admit, he is in a very heterogenous class and has to put in extra effort to be able to catch up with the others. But there must be something I can do, besides regular encouraging comments and lots of after-the-lesson talks, to ‘pay him the salary’ he deserves.

And this merit issue brings me to one more incident, which falls into the same category as the previous story. I have one other student, a girl this time, whose struggles are pretty much similar to the boy’s. Only that her problem lies in the nature of test taking in general. Or as she put it ‘I learn, I learn and I know it’s okay but then I take the test and it’s all gone. I simply cannot do it!’ She has dyslexia on top of it all. Yet in the classroom she’s a cheerful, energetic and very talkative student. She is struggling too as her level is very low, but she is eager and has the valuable characteristic of a good learner – she LOVES to talk. But then there’s another test and she totally messes it up and I’m totally confused and hugely reluctant to break the news to her. So before the new year break I took her aside and let her know what my feelings were. I told her that the marks failed to reflect her efforts, that I appreciated her participation, her good mood, her energy a lot, that I was just as upset about her marks as she was and last but not least, I would think of possible ways to remedy this catastrophic situation.

Now, as I said above, this girl loves to talk. She’s good. She can make herself understood. Yet how often do we evaluate speaking? Maybe you do it a lot. Maybe you do it as regularly as written evaluation. But I don’t. It’s easier and faster to hand out written tests. Setting up oral evaluations is pretty tricky. I have only one 1 1/5 lesson per week with my students and there are approximately 15 students in each group. So having regular speaking tests seems logistically impossible. Yet languages are meant to be spoken. And there are students who are absolutely capable of talking but freeze in front of a blank page. Now, how unfair is that?! So having this idea in mind, I tossed and turned and tossed some more and decided that from now on I’ll introduce a new testing into the programme. I cannot test all of my students but I could evaluate two per week. So whatever the topic, one of the homework’s will be a short presentation. Say we are learning the vocabulary of seasons and weather. Students’ homework would be to prepare a short description of the seasons and weather in Switzerland. Ten minutes before the end of the lesson I would ask two students (randomly) to come up to me and we’d have a short discussion together. Meanwhile the other students can finish their exercises or start homework.  I would do that throughout the next semester. And I truly hope that the students who panic during regular tests, will be able to show their skills during our short and almost private talks and receive marks which will finally help to boost their self-confidence and back up their motivation.

So here I am all tangled up in the confusing mess of evaluation and student motivation and the possibly toxic fusion of the two. On one hand I have to test my students. We’re in a state school where marks are the signposts of their progress. They need to get familiar with testing and test types in order to pass the years and then eventually the final English test. But on the other hand, I wish to give marks that also reflect their effort, their personal progress, marks which encourage them rather than send yet another devastating blow. How to get around it all? How to be fair yet cater for different needs? How to help everyone on their particular journey?

In our next teacher training session, evaluation will be the central topic. Maybe I’ll walk away with lots of new and great ideas. Maybe not. I have been browsing through different teacher blogs looking for thoughts on the said topic. But the blogosphere is vast and my time limited.

I would very much appreciate your thoughts on this topic. But also any reading tips.

And last but not least – have you set up any original assessments which have tested students progress and effort in more alternative ways?

And yes, I will keep you posted on how the speaking tests go and whether I’ll come up with any other ways of helping my students show what they can rather than cannot do! Promise!

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Magic or maddening teachers

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Our last training session was an inward journey. We went to look for answers (questions too) in the untrodden patches of ‘our-world’, these distant corners we rarely acknowledge as our busy lives seal them off. To get to these rich sources, you have to dig a little. Unwrap layers, think or write them thin so that the dormant answers can surface to surprise you.

We teach who we are … and who we fail to be. Teachers are like spirits hovering in the classroom making magic or madness happen. Not necessarily directly, not by spraying stuff right into students’ faces, but by diffusing feelings, attitudes and beliefs that silently seep into the learners. Most teachers leave an imprint, some deeper, some barely recognizable traces. And these traces are tightly intertwined to who we are or who we fail to be.

In our last seminar we travelled back in time and tried to remember the teacher we’d appreciated a lot. My colleague talked about an ‘ugly’ bottle-glassed teacher who wore the same old tweed jacket year in and year out, combed his hair in a funny way and was young and old at the same time. But, his lessons were always calm, well-structured and had the magic capacity to make the learners feel at ease and confident. I was intrigued and asked my colleague to dig a little deeper. What else could she remember? What about the voice? The gestures? Sanctions? How did he correct the students? How did he give feedback? And that’s where my colleague remembered that he didn’t even talk that much. He was calm, reassuring, more like an all-embracing scaffolding helping students raise to their own feet. He didn’t need to go into sanctions as students hardly misbehaved. They had no need to provoke limits as these were so well defined. From what the other teacher said I could only conclude one thing – that tweed-clad teacher was solid as a rock. He harbored so much self-confidence and calm he didn’t need to mess around with limits or naughty learners. Because the learners felt calm and self-confident too. How powerful is that!

And then I remembered a teacher we used to fear and hate in the secondary school. Even more, we loathed him because of the way he made us feel, how he pushed us into a corner, how he enjoyed being superior and tyrannical. His weapon was fear, and he had acquired quite a mastery of it. But now, looking back, I am sure that fear was not simply a tool he used, fear had enveloped him, fear was eating him from the inside. He could find and manipulate our fears because it was all too familiar to him. He knew fear. He knew it so well he could smell it from far and coax it into the daylight, twist it, play around with it. He was suffering from fear and thus, teaching with fear.

But I also remember a university lecturer, an Irish woman, who was poetry to me. Poetry and words and rhythm and love of literature. She had such a frail figure but powerful mind and feelings. I will never forget the time she brought a book by Doris Lessing to class and read a passage to us. I can still see how she held the book, how she turned the pages with her long and slender fingers, how her voice and body and breathing got captured by the story, how she forgot everything but the book. And I knew I wanted to be poetry too. I knew she had touched, stirred something very, very deep inside of me. The ice had began to melt and I discovered I had loves and passions in me that had lain dormant till that day.

What will I stir in my students? What will I coax into the daylight? How do I make them feel? Can I say that? Can I see that? My students will maybe tell me one day. But till then I will take care of myself as a human being who has passions and loves and interests. I will nurture the good, the hopeful, the soulful sides in me hoping they’ll shine through.

If you want to become a better teacher, start by taking care of yourself as a person … because in the end you teach who you are … or fail to be.

Zoom in

Anna’s beautifully honest post on self analysis made me pace from one end of the kitchen to another while I was mumbling to myself, ‘What’s in here for me?’ ‘How can I use it? Oh, come on, inspiration, I feel there’s stuff in here I can use!’

And use it I can, definitely! It made me think of the upcoming teacher training sessions I am honored to conduct again this year. It’s the sequel to last year’s seminars, which were my first to plan and run. I loved that new project, new teaching / learning adventure that unfolded during the sessions. Loads was shared and analyzed. We pondered on discipline, took apart lesson plans, evaluated each other’s evaluation techniques, studied methods, tasks, attitudes. So in a way, I think, these seminars created rather a neat whole by the end and if the course had stopped there, it would have already been quite a satisfaction for both of us, my trainee and me.

However, as it is a two-part training course, I have one more sequence of seminars to plan. And that’s where Anna’s daring reflections lent themselves to long-awaited inspiration and motivation. I am incredibly lucky to have as my first trainee a wonderful teacher who is on the same wave length with me. We’ve got to know each other pretty well, we are comfortable in each other’s company and both eager to grow and develop as teachers. And even though I am officially the trainer, I can honestly say, learning is definitely mutual when we get together.

So having said all that, what if we turned the regular teacher training a little upside down and started from within ourselves? What if, instead of our students and lessons, we zoomed into ourselves? What if we scrutinized ourselves as teachers?

I have lots of ideas, thoughts, quotes, snippets fighting for attention in my head right now. Questions are bombarding me. Questions like:

How would I describe myself as a teacher?

What am I good at?

What kind of a teacher I dream of being?

What kind of a teacher I would like to have if I were my students?

How would I like to grow? How can I start growing?

It’s all raw and pretty shapeless for the moment. But I am excited about how it’ll turn out. I’m curious and eager to dig deeper into who we are as teachers.

WHAT’S MORE, I am also hoping you could help me just a little bit 😉

Would you mind sharing any posts, articles, books you’ve read on a similar topic. Maybe there was a quote that touched you. I would be grateful for all inspiration!

I, on the other hand, promise to share the adventure with you!

Burn brightly … forever

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Three more months and that would have made one year of no teaching posts. ONE YEAR!!!
Well, I have been busy. Busy on so many different fronts I’ve run the risk of going bananas quite many times. I just cannot do anything half-heartedly. It’s either all in or nothing at all. I’ve been knitting, writing, taking lots of photography classes, living my life of a mom and wife, switching into Estonian, Swiss, English mode, getting excited about myriads of things, wanting to live and love with all the intensity I can muster. But boy, does that get exhausting! It’s like burning with a very bright flame but ending up in ashes way too fast!

I taught and PLN-ed in sixth gear all through the last year. Additionally, I got my first job as a teacher trainer, visited, analyzed, gave feedback on lessons, gave my first conference talk, wrote numerous blog posts, bought and borrowed stacks of books on teaching and tested different innovative activities and techniques with my students. I got to a level of that unhealthy excitement a child experiences when tickled right before the bedtime. I was mad! Happy, but over-excitedly nuts.

Then summer came, school stopped and I got all  excited about all the other things.

Returning to school was tough this year. I felt inadequate, out of sync, not enthusiastic enough, and thus, not satisfied with my own performance. You know, giving myself a truly hard time. But even though it took some time, the teacher in me has been stirring, waking and stretching her muscles. And finally last week, after returning to regular reading of the posts of my dear PLN members, I felt the teacher hat like some magician’s top hat swallow me completely 🙂 I feel alive and kicking again. My reflective practice journal has been dusted, my enthusiasm made me smile while correcting my students’ papers and I got an urge to come and write this post on a Sunday when the sun is high up in the sky and the November warmth is softly caressing anyone’s cheek who is sane enough to go for a stroll (not me!).

But I don’t want to just turn a new page. What kind of a teacher am I if I cannot learn from my own mistakes?! I know I tend to jump right into the action discarding everything else, including my own sanity and health. And knowing myself, the same burn-brightly-till-the-ashes scenario can all to easily repeat itself.

So that’s where the tricky part starts. How to continue teaching in an enthusiastic, fulfilling, satisfactory way, yet keep parts of myself for other activities and other people beside my students and colleagues? How to preserve myself as long as possible? How to live and teach, not live to teach?

Even though I am tempted to rush wholeheartedly into the game again, I try to tread carefully. Maybe I should start weekly planning where time is allotted for different parts of my life and trespassing is strictly forbidden? Maybe I simply switch off all electronic devices for certain amounts of time every day / weekend? Maybe I should learn to rely on my ever growing experience and stop worrying if enormous amounts of lesson preparation hasn’t been done?

Does all that sound like gibberish to your ears or can anyone out there relate to what I’ve been babbling here? If the latter, have you unearthed the magic recipe for evenly-balanced life work formula?

Whichever part of my last questions made you nod vigorously, do come back here as there’s more to follow!

Cheers everyone!

Talk at ETAS AGM in January 2014

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Attending a conference can be a truly overwhelming experience. But attending a conference and giving a talk there as well simply blows one’s mind. A couple of days after the event, once the dust has settled exposing a clearer scenery, certain realizations hit home.

Wise men don’t preach, they ask questions. I attended Jeremy Harmer’s plenary speech and one of his talks as well. And in both cases I was amused by how, instead of telling other teachers how teaching goes, he would bemuse us with questions, doubts, open-ended and long echoing assumptions. He was always wondering, always questioning and looking out at his audience encouraging us to inquire as well. It was a really refreshing approach. But it was truly soothing as well. Because there are no ready made and final answers out there. Teaching is learning and it is never complete. Just when you think you’ve got it, the thread slips out of your hand and off you go to search it again.

Even if a pending talk can spoil some of the fun of listening to other presenters, it also makes you more alert, more analytical and definitely a more attentive listener. The message you are about to share makes you compare and contrast, it encourages you to look for ideas, suggestions and definitely for useful quotes to use in your own talk. Or as Byron Wien said about reading Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author.  If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.

I dreaded having to present during the last session. It seemed I was at a disadvantage. How wonderful it would be to get it over and done with before relaxing in other talks. However, the last session turned out to be a real advantage. When I arrived at the conference on Saturday morning, I felt rather lonely. I remembered some faces, I recalled a name or two, but there was no one I felt like striking up a discussion with immediately. The idea of giving a talk seemed more daunting than ever. But then we had workshops to meet people, coffee breaks, apéro and a lively supper, so by Sunday I had all these incredibly wonderful people coming to wish me all the best of luck. Walking into the classroom I even had a couple of familiar faces to give me the encouraging smiles. So let me use the occasion here and praise the ELT professionals. They are the most supportive, friendly and kind folk out there!

Not to talk about Kowalski, who was diligently doing his duty and cheering me on 🙂

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As a response to some of the attendees request and believing that several of my blog readers would benefit from the talk as well, here’s the summary of my presentation.

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After having been a member of ETAS (English Teachers Association of Switzerland) and attended many of its conferences and workshops, it seemed time was ripe for me to pitch in and share my own experience. As struggling with very mixed level classes is my daily bread, and coming up with plausible strategies to manage the mess an ever-present challenge, I decided to dedicate my first talk to working in, for and with a class of very mixed level students.

I skipped theory and jumped right into the action giving an overview of all the various tasks and techniques I use in my classes.

First I looked into reading and how to exploit the same text with different levels. Depending whether you want to use the SB and avoid photocopying or bring in your own material, here are some of my ideas (hugely inspired by many educators from all over the world):

Working with books

  • let faster students (in my case, more advanced level students) come up with a couple of comprehension questions they can then ask the whole class
  • In case you make the questions, project them on the screen / write on the board starting with easier ones and putting  trickier ones in the end (the ones that would push more advanced students). Once a student has finished reading direct their attention to the questions and let them begin work on that. Lower level students might not get till the harder questions, but it’s fine. They will have covered the essential questions!
  • Depending on the text, you could ask faster students to work with vocabulary in depth. For instance, they could use monolingual dictionaries to write dictionary definitions into their vocabulary notebooks (making them practise really good English!)

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When you bring in your own material that can be cut up, jumbled up, spiced up, you could do one of the following:

  • Give more advanced students a gapped text instead of the complete version
  • Hand out jumbled paragraphs they have to put in order thus working on linking ideas!
  • You  might want to divide the paragraphs between students (lower levels should get shorter and maybe also fewer paragraphs) and then they should read and report back! OR – maybe they should create a certain vocabulary bank and then share with their neighbor.

I also talked about vocabulary work and listening with the main idea always being that lower level students should get more scaffolding than more advanced level students.

One of the key strategies for mixed level groups (well, any group really, I guess) is to vary as much as possible. There are so many different levels to attend to that all kinds of group compositions should be played around with.

Sometimes working in mixed level groups proves the most advantageous. More advanced students could be the scaffolding for lower levels. Once the work’s been prepared, you can remove the scaffolding, i.e. break the group up and ask every students to work on their own.

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Although in one of my older posts I made a rather assertive statement about how not to work in sections, I have since then changed my mind quite a bit. One of the driving forces, a source of motivation was the incredible Naomi Epstein, who answered my call for help and shared some of her ideas and classroom management strategies. I have used work in sections several times now, and I must confess it is always a pleasurable experience.Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.54.17

The lesson plan the above poster summarizes is here.

Helping our students become autonomous learners should be on every teacher’s agenda, and even more so when it comes to mixed-level classes. It is inevitable to frustrate some of the students in a lesson. It is either too difficult and fast or way too easy and slow moving. There is, however, no better occasion to choose one’s pace or level than when students work on their own. This is why work outside the classroom should get special attention as well.

I have proposed the following to my students:
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Expression of the week is an ongoing project where every week a new student brings in an expression (s)he has heard, read and introduces it to the classmates.

During the conference I got another idea as well … Do let me know what you think of i! More advanced students have the tendency to relax too much during the lessons and thus miss the learning opportunities always present. One of possible sources of learning is teacher talk. So I was thinking of asking my students to pay special attention to teacher talk and jot down any words or expressions they like / want to learn and then share at the end of the lesson.

And here are the main points to bear in mind when teaching a very mixed-level class:
Capture d’écran 2014-01-28 à 16.58.22The ideas shared in this talk are tiny drops in the vast ocean. And even though, just for a couple of minutes right after the talk was over, I felt a sense of accomplishment, I am still at the bottom of the high mountain of mixed level classes. There are days when it frustrates and discourages me. It seems that no matter what I do, I will never be satisfied nor manage my groups in an absolutely satisfactory way.  But as the wise men say … teaching is learning and it never seizes.

And let’s ask another question 😉

Students turned into journalists

Curiosity is like a message board. You have your eyes, your ears, all your senses open and every new discovery is a sticky-note pinned onto the wall. Most of the time it looks like  a motley collection of random thoughts, links, quotes, books, songs, videos, impressions. But at times, right notes stick out like dots. All you need to do is link the dots and you’ve got a new idea. Almost all of my classroom projects are born this way. It cannot be a forced creation, it is always an end product of slow maturation.

Sticky note 1 – Roughly a  year ago I stumbled on this fun and truly inspirational blog http://burningquestionnaire.wordpress.com. I loved the interviews and found the questions whimsical. They were questions I would have loved to answer myself. I had a fleeting thought of using this questionnaire in my own class but discarded the idea almost immediately. I feared it was too difficult, too abundant in structures and language we hadn’t covered with my students yet. I couldn’t see it fitting into the programme. But the sticky-note was there, on the board!

Sticky note 2 – A couple of months ago our school headmaster, who also happens to be an incredibly inspirational person, sent me a link to this website http://the-talks.com. He was wondering whether I could use it in my lessons in one way or another. I spend hours enjoying the wonderful interviews, taking immense pleasure in the language and the thoughts expressed through it. It was a real treat!  Sticky-note was on the board!

Sticky note 3 – One year ago I joined the amazing, ever-inspirational, supportive, wise community of English language educators. I began to read thought-provoking articles and blog-posts, I had my eyes opened to innumerable ideas, controversies, trends, beliefs. But above all, I began seeing my own teaching, my own beliefs, my own fears and doubts in a completely new light. What had previously felt like the only good idea, the correct basis for a solid teaching practice, started showing cracks, then had parts chipped off and finally crumbled into non-existence. It wasn’t scary! It was thrilling! Among these strong ideas was my belief that I was in control of my students’ learning. I had very much taken the sole responsibility for their learning. I tortured myself believing that I had to be up to making them fluent in English through the means I and only I presented them with. Thus, coming back to the interviews, I deduced they weren’t able to work with them as I hadn’t provided them with all the right tools yet.

Fortunately, I was able to rid myself of this obstinate and oh-how-painful principle. I relaxed, took a more playful approach to projects (and their outcomes!), but most of all, I realized that teaching and learning don’t go hand in hand. Or as so many wise teachers have said, It’s not because a teacher TEACHES something that a learner will LEARN this. When and to what extent learning takes place is not something a teacher can control. We can, however, inspire, propose interesting tasks, create favorable atmosphere and be there to guide and help when necessary.

At the end of the first semester I had two one and a half hour unplanned lessons to use for any project I felt like doing. And that’s when I linked the dots and came up with an interview project for my students. Initially, I was a tiny bit scared they might not like the idea, or rather, they might protest because of the workload included. But I am happy to say all my fears vanished into thin air the moment I saw my students’ eyes light up when asked who they would like to interview. They were in! They had had their curiosity, their excitement buds tickled and the project took off.

Here’s what we did

Lesson 1

First I showed a possible interview opening on the screen. It went like this:

Singing, dancing, weight-lifting actor Hugh Jackman on coffee, his biggest fears and wearing skirts to school

(From http://www.time.com/10questions)

I asked the students where they could see something like this and what its purpose was.

Next I showed two more possible openings. Here they are:

Rachel Khoo, 33, of BBC2’s The Little Paris Kitchen, was born in Croydon to a Malaysian-Chinese father and Austrian mother. She studied art and design, but after working in fashion, followed her heart to Paris to learn patisserie. Following the success of The Little Paris Kitchen, this year, Rachel travelled through France finding the best dishes…

(From a British women’s magazine Prima)

There’s no mistaking that Amanda Holden is in the room. The actress and TV star has such an infectious laughter and great sense of humor that she soon has everyone at the shoot giggling.

(From another British magazine Good Housekeeping)

We discussed how the three openings differed, and I asked them to choose one of the three types when writing their interview. Next on the menu was Tips for Writing Good Interviews. I had browsed through various sites and come up with a list of good tips concerning the best suitable location for the interview, which questions to avoid, how to make the person feel at ease etc. I gave different tips to neighbors. They had to read theirs, take notes and then report their ideas to their neighbor. Once finished, I asked them to read their neighbor’s versions to check whether they got the truth and only the truth 🙂 I also wrote the main points on the board for a general round-up.

The last part of the lesson was reading several interviews. I had made copies of different interviews and students could choose what to read. All the interviews were taken from this site: http://the-talks.com

The classroom fell into deep silence as students devoured the words. I was dumbfounded! They do love to read! Just give them stuff they find interesting.

At the end of the lesson students had to tell me who they were going to interview. Their homework was to write down the questions and do the interview. They had one week for that. I encouraged them to use recorders during the talk!

Lesson 2

They had to come to the next lesson with the notes and the recording on their phone (plus earbuds!) The last lesson was writing. They had the whole lesson to write the final interview using the notes and / or the recording. And they did! Again, I was amazed to see how well they can work if the task feels important and personal to them. I was available for help and guidance.

End note

I started correcting their works this morning and I haven’t stopped smiling the whole day. Here are some extracts from their interview openings ( I changed the names):

Nancy is a seventeen year old young woman who has already written four novels. Meet the young writer with a lot of imagination!

Gregory is sitting outside, smoking a cigarette. He’s wearing my grandfather’s old shirt and a pair of mountain shoes. He looks so simple and it’s been a long time since I last saw him looking in my eyes with such a warm smile.

Mary has just turned 17. I have known her since she was a baby and we have always lived in the same street. Mary has an expensive but tremendous passion.

A café in the town centre. Tracy looks happy. She’s smiling. Nothing suggests she used to suffer from bulimia.

I will correct all the interviews and then ask my students to type the corrected versions on computer. On one hand, I want them to re-write the interviews going through the errors and (hopefully) learning from them. On the other hand, I wish them to keep beautiful versions of their work. They definitely deserve that.

Right, back to corrections. It can be fun too!

What a year!

This post belongs to the final hours of this year. It’s like the red ribbon you tie around old letters before gently putting them into a box and then up on a shelf. I want to wrap this year up. I want to take all the incredible memories, amazing moments and wonderful feelings, put a ribbon around them and keep stored in a special place, in the year 2013.

I started this blog almost one year ago. Hesitantly. Tentatively. Not sure I was up to it. Not certain my voice would carry. Not at all confident my lines would find ears and eyes to please. I had followed educators all over the world, silently. I knew quite many names. I had read lots of great thoughts. I was a little scared. All these people seemed so far away from me. They were stars. Famous yet so far away. Why would they take any notice of my thoughts and shouts.

I took a small step. Wrote the ‘about’ page and then waited. A couple of days later there was a comment! A comment on my about page! From Ken Wilson! He welcomed me, encouraged me and asked to read more.  A few lines, a tiny moment spent encouraging a teacher, a priceless move to kick a stone and start it rolling … Only a couple of months later I wrote my first guest post for Ken’s blog. It was a hit. It was absolutely amazing. And I can’t think Ken enough for the support he gives to so many teachers from all over the world!

Once my blog got rolling, beautiful things started happening.

1. It helped me create my PLN. Through writing and reflecting I got in touch with so many likeminded educators. The teachers that only a little while previously had seemed utterly out of reach became my allies and my friends. I have “met” so wonderful people, it makes me humble. And what’s more, I have been mentioned by these people in their posts, in their lists, in their messages. This is huge!  I would love to meet all of you guys! And some I already have 🙂 In September I attended the first International Loras Workshop in Zug and spent an amazing day with Vicky and Eugenia, two absolutely incredible women.

2. I started to grow, consciously grow as a teacher. Reading other educators’ posts gave me lots of new ideas. Writing my own, made me ask important questions. Suddenly, teaching became less daunting. I started to visualize it more as a  journey, an adventure during which we stumble and fall, but then get up again and become stronger and wiser. Taking a more reflective look on my work, made me more confident. Becoming more confident, made me calmer. Becoming calmer made me a better teacher.

3. Following other teachers rekindled my wish to participate more actively in TESOL. I read my new friends’ posts about conferences and presentations, I ‘liked’ their pre and post talk photos, I had great fun chatting with other teachers during the IATEFL conference. So, why wait any longer?! I gathered all my courage, quietened the voices of the hesitant and discouraging me and sent in my very first talk proposal.  It got accepted! And in three weeks’ time I’ll be giving my first talk at the annual ETAS conference in Switzerland.

I am very excited about the year to come, I am impatient to meet new teachers and make good friends, I am eager to try, to grow and to accept the challenges my wonderful job offers daily. But most of all, I am grateful to all the educators I have met on my journey. You rock! You do! (… gosh, where’s the kleenex…)

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