An EFL teacher discovering the whole new universe :)

March 29, 2006

Please share your knowledge :)

I'm writing a paper on blogging as a language learning tool and would really appreciate your help. If you teach learners a foreign language and you use blogs for doing it, please, answer my ten-question-long survey. It won't take a lot of your time, but your answers will be highly valuable to me.
I have really restricted time to collect the answers, so I'm begging you to do it... now:) Why leave it for tomorrow if you can do it today? :))

I really hope that among this supportive community of practice there will be enough individuals to participate. Thank you all in advance.

Click here to take a short survey

March 24, 2006

Surviving the first year

This school year is my last year at university and a first year of teaching. I must admit that I do feel something really important happening in my life, while I'm leaving the student years behind and entering the world of Miss Bezic :)
I teach EFL in a primary school and most of the time I feel really good there. I could even say that every day is getting better and better. I am less and less stressed and much more ready to improvise. By that I mean that, contrary to my first weeks, I give more power to pupils and let them tailor our lessons a bit. Consequently they've started enjoying more and learning better, and we all spend more quality time together. Every day something happens that brightens my day - a nice word, gesture, a funny situation. I'm slowly getting to consider my students as individuals and I'm becoming more and more sincerely interested in them. I know that theoretically this is how it should be, but I simply couldn't do that in the first weeks... I didn't have so much time for them, having been occupied with myself so much. Now I listen better, I talk less. I like them more and more, each one of them has become dear to me, in one way or another. I have become more concerned, supportive and positive. After six months of teaching I'm also more confident. And after two months of blogging I'm ready to admit that:)
All this meditation came about thanks to James Matthew's link . I came across the blog post on the experiences of novice teachers and the hard time someone has when starting teaching. Christian wrote a nice post entitled Surviving year one in the classroom without sabotaging the future
Among his other very interesting thoughts and citations, I found this interesting:
I've always felt -- once I got my feet under myself after that first teaching year -- that the absolute 'survival' experience of a first year teacher is what becomes the DNA for all the years that follow. In other words, the survival skills one learns to make it through those scary and paradoxical first 9 months become the ground you stand on in the next few years, and then when the fear goes away, the same skills become a world view and a rationalization and a way of drawing lines in the sand. So, even the most experienced educator on the planet is still in some way re-copying (or mimeo-graphing) those early skills that so often become unconscious, and they simply get better and better at explaining the continued use over time.

As a first year teacher I'm not really in the position to agree or disagree with him, but I do know that I do feel the importance of this first year. As a motto of my first teaching endeavors I took a saying by C. Robert:
"Kids don't care how much we know, until they know how much we care."

Something in this direction I also found in Christian's blog, once sb said to him:
But when in doubt, when confused or angry, when lost, simply love the kids. And remember you made an informed decision to teach. And stop trying to figure it all out the first day. Love will take you where you're capable of going. When you're ready. And truth of truths, if your ultimate goal is to see your kids learn and grow and achieve great things, this is where you'll find them doing it, when you love them enough to believe they can accomplish anything no matter how hard the challenge.

After reading Christian's post and thinking about my personal experiences that are - especially this first year - so valuable, I've decided to start posting a bit about my days in school. Sorry, not about days. About people.
Why would I let it all go by? Why not catch those special moments? You-don't-get-a second-chance-to-be-a-first-year-teacher :)
I hope you won't unsubscribe from my blog if I get more personal:)
Sunny greetings from Slovenia!

March 17, 2006

The 'why', not the 'how'

Will Richardson discusses Kevin Clark's article (not) about the technology and adds his thought, worth citing:
It's getting to be less and less about the tool and more and more about the opportunities the tools create, the "why", not the "how." And the "why we should use any of these tools" question is all about their capacity to build connections and community.

March 15, 2006

Teaching Very Young Learners

Yesterday I attended an interesting and much needed seminar on teaching very young learners, aged 5 to 8. The speakers, workshop leaders, were Irena Rozman, OUP ELT Representative for Slovenia and Clare Matthews, a teacher and teacher-trainer from England, who came to Slovenia four years ago.
Rozman talked about the general characteristics of small children, emphasizing that we should apply multi-sensory approach to fully develop the potential of children who are still developing emotionally, socially, physically, intellectually, etc. We should vary activities and their pace as well as take their age specific behaviour into consideration. Small children simply can't hide their feelings and they share their joy or sadness with us, also depending on whether they are extrovert or introvert, anxious or confident personalities. To help them acquire the language successfully we should provide them immersion, as much as possible, encourage imitation (through miming, repeating, singing, dancing...), emphasize interaction (through TPR, questions, stories), and support their internalisation of the language (by encouraging them to speak and by remodeling their words). Teacher of young children should be fun, but firm, and should value the kids individually. The child has to be put in the centre, while learning about very concrete and familiar topics, as well as daily routine and events.

Matthews stressed the importance of keeping children focused and entertained to enhance the learning experience. She showed us the benefits of using hand puppets, masks, and colourful wall displays, as well as decorated shoe boxes for collecting the vocabulary flashcards. Building a monster was also great - with two heads, one tail, three legs... body parts vocabulary being practised in a fun way. I also learned a new song that goes with the tune of Ten Green Bottles Sitting on the Wall:
Red, pink, yellow, purple, green or blue,
red, pink, yellow, purple, green or blue.
What's your favourite colour?
Please tell me do!
Is it red, pink, yellow, purple green or blue?

Rozman talked about gradual introduction of writing and reminded us on variety of tools (such as crayons, pastels, chalks, paint...) and surfaces (such as chalkboard, shaped pieces of coloured, differently-sized paper, card, stones...) that can be used to raise their motivation. At pre-writing level we are developing children's basic skills such as distinguishing and recognizing different shapes, as well as gross and fine motor skills (e.g. SNAP game). At letter-level they learn the shape and name of letters, also the alphabet. Another nice song, new to me, goes to the tune of Are You Sleeping Brother John:
Letter A, letter A!
Where are you? Where are you?
Here in 'apple', 'ant', and 'Anna',
'alphabet' too, 'alphabet' too.

Letter B, letter B!
where are you? Where are you?
Here in 'bat', 'big' and 'bad',
'banana' too, 'banana' too.


When we come to word level, children can start recognizing words by just saying yes/no when you show them the flashcards with pictures. For example, you write down the word 'lion' and then show pictures of different animals. Children say no, no, no... until the picture and the word match.
Another interesting activity that shouldn't be forgotten when teaching the pronunciation is clapping the syllables of the word, e.g. ba-by.
To help building child's visual memory of written words, this activity can be used:

First children have a look at the word, then we say it aloud, teacher covers it, they write it down and finally check how successful they were.
A very interesting piece of advice was that we should use low key letters because they are more easily distinguishable than high key letters (!).
At the sentence level we teach children word order and some useful chunks of language with hidden grammar. A great way to do it is by following "traffic lights rule" (I guess this activity is taken from Writing with Children, J. and V. Reilly, OUP, 2005). You prepare a tree with colourful leaves:

Later you tell them to follow the "traffic lights rule". For children this is an easy way to build simple sentences and gradually get familiar with the pattern.

These were just some of the seminar high points. Considering the fact that it lasted only about three hours, I really learned a lot and enjoyed listening to two great presenters. Thanks, Oxford Center Ljubljana :)

March 05, 2006

Some great blogging habits

Through Anne Davis, who is celebrating International Edublogging Women's Day 2006 by publishing articles about inspiring women edubloggers, I came to another interesting post.
Vicki A. Davis posted a nice article on 10 habits of bloggers that win.
Here comes the summary:
1. If you mention it, hyperlink it!

She clearly explains how to manually hyperlink:

2. Get a good title.
3. Write and then cut in half.
4. Write and then format.
5. Draw a picture.
6. Before you bag it, tag it.
7. After you post it, ping it.
8. Make sure you set your pages to archive.
9. Comment on articles you quote and hyperlink to your article.
10.Get the statistics back.

For some of you, self-evident stuff, for some of us, a nice reminder :)

"A Personal Log of Improvement"

Is it inappropriate to comment on older posts in my blog? I'm new to blogosphere and there is so much to read, fresh stuff as well as some great old articles. I cannot help myself from sharing some of the blog jewels with you.
Here it goes, Barbara Ganley's post from September 2005 deals with transparent blogging and the sometimes, for students themselves, problematic public nature of a blog. She writes:
"The students are shy, self-conscious, some of them still figuring out how to write in English. They have been conditioned to succeed, to achieve, to excel, and they feel that showing their work like this exposes a weakness, a flaw, a secret. They don't altogether buy it that they are here in college to learn, (I'm not sure they've really thought about what that word means except in the most literal sense of acquiring a body of knowledge to be tested on) not to produce shiny objects, one after another that demonstrate their worthiness according to some unfathomable scale."

Isn't that so true? We should remind ourselves more often that children are in schools to learn, they wouldn't be here if they knew everything! We should recognize students' mistakes as signs of their progress, as steps towards knowledge.
Barbara's Writing Class used to publish their first pieces of writing, their first attempts, and some people thought that wasn't show students' weakness to the world wide audience. However, the participants took it as a part of their learning process and their teacher believed that this was the right approach.
One of her students, Zoey, posted a great comment to Barbara's article. She described how one of her friends took a look at her blog and was amused by her first endeavours. At first slightly ashamed, Zoey soon started protecting her blog. Zoey writes:
"Without those first few novice pieces I would never have gained the confidence to continue writing, searching and discovering the orbit of a blog. It is inspiring and encouraging for me to have such work to read and look back on, it is a personal log of improvement. As I continue to blog I am feeling the benefits of having such a raw experience.
We all have to start somewhere and for a student to aim for perfection with every post defeats the purpose of a blog. We are in a discussion, gradually improving our speech, learning from each other and learning from ourselves."

Isn't that just great?

March 03, 2006

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

I came across Marc Prensky's article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. This text was written five years ago, but still, very interesting assumptions.
He is discussing the difference between youth that was born in this digital world of highly developed technology and those of us who are learning to become part of it. He writes about Digital Natives:
"They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age... It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors... Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet."

So far I thought that I'm young enough to actually belong to this digital generation. What about you?
Keep reading:)

Prensky argues that Digital Immigrants are different.
"The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their "accent," that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it... There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having your secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker” accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL). I’m sure you can think of one or two examples of your own without much effort. My own favorite example is the “Did you get my email?” phone call."

Ok, where are we now? I do sometimes turn to the Internet second rather than first (e.g., I've just ordered some books via Amazon to get the printed literature - why wasn't I satisfied with the numerous online resources?!). I do read manuals sometimes, although this accent of mine is becoming weaker. Here comes one fresh example from my immigrant life: having wireless internet only for couple of months, I keep forgetting that I can actually grab my laptop, when needed, move to another room and still talk via Skype... Instead, I spent an hour yesterday, talking with my friend via payable landline:( Not much of a digital native :)

So, how can we bridge this divide between "them" and "us"? Digital Natives deffinitely won't "go back". As Prensky states:
"Smart adult immigrants accept that they don’t know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the “old country.”"

Although this article is a bit old and you probably read it years ago, I believe such concepts are worth rethinking

Great presentation

I know I'm almost two months behind, but today I found this video on Ewan McIntosh's blog. It's his talk at Jordanhill College, University of Strathclyde, that took place in January. He was talking about the web 2.0 and its implications for teaching. It lasts almost an hour but I believe the presentation is really interesting, useful and creative. Enjoy his Scottish accent :)