Wednesday, March 23, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING AND RECENT ENCOUNTERS

This is a REALLY belated post on the TESOL seminar I attended on 12-13 March by making a short trip to Athens, which made me willing to share some of the enlightening ideas heard during the convention as well as the sites of the bloggers I was so lucky to meet.

My main goal was achieved: I managed to attend several presentations and, thus, to get acquainted with novel concepts which will hopefully be incorporated in my teaching as soon as I feel they suit my students' needs, aims and interests. Here is a list of some of the conclusions I have drawn and notes I have kept, put very simply without any complex jargon:
  • Exam-oriented activities can be fun, as well, if related extra material precedes or follows them. For example, YouTube videos could be used to introduce learners to an ECPE speaking activity and activate vocabulary already taught. 
  • Speaking tasks that resemble the official exams can be enriched by other common oral tasks, like debates, pyramid discussions, prepared talks and spontaneous speeches
  • Apart from spidergrams and analysis of the text structure, setting a context before students read an ECPE text could be helpful, e.g. Your cousin is worried about having a premature baby and has asked you to do an online research on the topic. This is one of the articles you come across. What is its main idea? Will it reassure your cousin?
  • Always personalize the material on the course books. If the ECPE text is about the connection of birth weight and intelligence, ask them about their own birth weight as a lead-in question. This teaching strategy can be employed in all kinds of activities and levels and never fails to motivate even the most timid of learners to produce more of the target language. (The above may sound too simple or ordinary, but tend to be forgotten in the rush of the lesson!)
  • Amazing research findings we are all aware of, but have no idea of the exact numbers :
When you hear, you learn 20% of the new input.

When you hear and see, you learn 40% of the new input.

When you hear, see and do, you learn 70% of the new input.

  • The top strategies to enhance lexical uptake are:
1) Creating bilingual word lists (this is for our advanced students who complain about having to study the English definition of the words!)
2) Listening to songs
3) Watching DVDs with English subtitles
4) Virtual Reality Interaction, such as Second Life. However, this type of learning needs to be dealt with caution and thorough investigation of the all its aspects.
5) Reading comic books (that was truly surprising, but so useful to know!) 

  • When writing a drama script on your own, bear these in mind:
1) Find out the expectations and needs of both the students and the audience.
2) Concerning the audience, there needs to be various input to enhance understanding.
3) Take care of the music, set, costumes and make sure the audience has constant eye contact with the performers.
4) The language should be shortly above the students' level. 
5) The story should involve a problem, the following events and a solution.
6) During rehearsals, re-evaluate all the above and do not be afraid to go back and make radical changes, e.g. add scenes or characters.

  • We have all heard and read a lot over dyslexia, but what had escaped my attention was that these learners cannot easily notice the punctuation marks. To help them, you can rewrite some of the texts in the course book using more accessible vocabulary and grammar, also leaving bigger gaps between lines that contain more difficult punctuation, e.g. exclamation marks.
  • We need to employ needs analysis techniques when we deal with would-be learners of Business English. Here are some resources I have found. 
  • A teacher needs to be flexible to overcome difficulties. When a problem arises, 'cha cha cha' to the left to avoid it  and then 'cha cha cha' to the right! This was Vicky Megas' motto, which is why she made us dance cha-cha-cha in the actual room her presentation took place!  
  • I was mostly enchanted by Luke Prodromou's impressive talk, but also presence. What he said was that there are no characteristics of an ideal teacher. One can constantly smile, be friendly and polite to students, stand and walk around the classroom, implement communicative activities and so forth, but the students may still not learn. On the contrary, Mr Prodromou has seen teachers sitting at their desks, barricaded behind a pile of books, being very strict, but actually having the children's full attention and encouraging active participation in the lesson. 
  • Therefore, there is no checklist for what is right or wrong when teaching; what a teacher does with all the techniques is what matters. 

Presentations mentioned:
1) Tête à Tête: 1 to 1 Cha-cha-cha slide by Vicky Megas
2) Voices from the classroom: Becoming a better teacher by Luke Prodromou
3)My Drama Script- how to write plays for young learners by Anna Kozicka
4) Vill@ge Second Life: Virtual language learning through edutainment activities by Helen Bonanou
5) How fun can an exam prep class be? by Yiannis Bardis and Antigone Kapasaki 
6) First aid kit for students with learning difficulties by Marianthi Giannakopoulou

Now let us turn to the 'fun part': the newly cultivated interpersonal connections, the strolls and the enchanting scenery of Plaka.



First of all, the bloggers I met were truly amazing. Aspa Tsamadi and Christos Loufopoulos that can be seen in the photo above (on the left and right respectively) are famous all over Greece for the unique way they blog about parenting topics and their own family experiences. Here are the some useful links Greek parents can explore:

Christos' individual blog: www.ophilos.eu

Aspa's individual blog: www.aspaonline.gr

Shared blog with other parent-bloggers: mamadesmpampades.gr


How could I ever forget Theodora Papapanagiotou, a great teacher-blogger I had already get in touch with online, but also met in person during the convention. Teachers interested in taking a look at the fun videos and games she exploits in her lessons can visit her blog: theodorapap.blogspot.com


What was also memorable about my trip was the stroll in Plaka on a sunny Sunday morning. Even though that meant 'playing truant' from the seminar, the view of the Parthenon and the relaxed feeling of walking on the stone path walks convinced me it was worth it. What is magic about the Parthenon photos is that they can give tremendous courage and hope to us Greeks in great hardships, like the current one. I know this may sound silly or overly ambitious, but taking a look back and re-examining their cultural and historical roots will instantly reveal to all nations what they once were and what they can become if they strive for it with steely determination.



The unique exhibits and extraordinary design of the new Acropolis museum  constituted some more of the highlights of my trip. The education section of the site deserves the educators' and parents' attention, too, as it can be utilized in and out of the classroom in an intriguing way. 

Even those who are not my Facebook friends can view more photos like the above ones by clicking here

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