Thursday, 23 June 2011

Project Work in EFL Classrooms - an #Eltchat Summary

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place at 9pm BST on Wednesday 22nd June, 2011.  The full title of the chat was:

Project Work in EFL Classrooms (Themes, Strategies, Resources)

We welcomed some 'first-timers' to the chat as well as some contributors (including me) who had missed several weeks due to work and other committments.  The discussion was moderated superbly by @Marisa_C and @Shaunwilden and was, as usual, lively, informative and inspiring.....

Defining Terms - What is a Project?
  • A project is collaborative - most agreed on this point although @Shaunwilden suggested that a class can do individual projects according to their interests.
  • A project involves planning, collaboration, execution, constant evaluation, reflection, end product, and display (via @barbarabujtas).
  • It is a display of task outcome. 
  • It lasts for more than one or two lessons.  Indeed, it can continue throughout a whole course with, perhaps, the last 30 minutes of each lesson being devoted to project work.
  • It works best inside the classroom and should begin and end there, although research could be done for homework, making the borders of the classroom more porous - a two-way bridge (via @web2literacy). 
  • It doesn't necessarily have to be big as, as @CeciELT pointed out, students often don't have time to do big projects, so she has been experimenting with lots of mini-projects instead.
  • A project is a process by which the students can decide on the steps, critical elements and tasks (via @BethCagnol).
  • It should be varied and integrate a variety of language skills.
  • It should have differentiation built-in and be able to accommodate different ability levels.
  • A project can be ongoing - added to from year to year with different groups.  This idea was put forward by @BethCagnol and is something I can identify with as it is what we do with some of our projects at summer school.
  • A project can be done individually in a one-to-one setting, with the results being displayed in social media (via barbarabujtas).
  • A project involves not only using language to complete the task itself, but also reporting on the task - i.e. reflective learning (via @pjgallantry).
Why do Projects?
  • Projects can motivate students, especially teens. 
  • Students enjoy it when we show enthusiasm for doing project work and offer opportunities instead of just prescriptive work (via lu_bodeman).
  • Shy students can do great work in a group, as can students with otherwise lower grades.
  • Projects teach students, especially YLs, to work together, to be part of a group, to share, etc. (via Fuertesun).
  • Project work works well with CLIL.
  • Projects are more memorable than simple tasks, so might this mean that they are a more effective way of learning?
  • Projects link to the lives of learners; they are meaningful, not just prescriptive or pedagogic.
  • Projects offer an opportunity for acceleration work for students who are keen to move ahead (via @Marisa_C).
  • Students often take projects more seriously than everyday tasks.
  • Project work could involve the local community, parents, etc. (via @Yohimar)
The Teacher's Role in Project Work
  • To motivate the students. 
  • To guide the project in order to prevent copy/paste or laziness (via @evab2001).
  • To encourage creativity.
  • To plan scheduled short project meetings for updates & progress reports.
  • To have a very clear timetable of when each stage of the project should be completed.
  • To maintain their own enthusiasm for the project, even when they are 5 weeks in! (via @pjgallantry)

Motivating Students to do Project Work
  • Sometimes, particularly with adult students, some group members won't participate in project work. 
  • Most contributors to the chat agreed that the key to this was making sure that the students had some input in to choosing the topic of the project, perhaps choosing from a list supplied by the teacher or even coming up with the list themselves and then narrowing it down to their favourites.
  • Give each student in a project group a role, a particular objective to help avoid coasting and to add peer pressure (via @fionamau).
  • Have a prize for the best project, something worth fighting for (via @BethCagnol).
  • Students are generally motivated by teaching something they know to other students (via @CeciELT).  I agree - at last year's summer school, one Japanese student came in to his own when he taught his classmates all about darts as part of a sports project.  He even made a perfect dartboard just by folding paper - amazing!
  • The outcome of the project must be seen to be important - something which the students can be proud of and use as a measure of their development (via @lu_bodeman).
  • Students like the fact that projects can be displayed using different media - posters, ppt, audio, video, etc.

Project Ideas
  • A portfolio of questions asked during internship interviews - good for BE. 
  • A glog on your favourite popstar (this could be an individual project).
  • A guide to local restaurants, etc., which could be updated yearly.
  • A class newspaper, newsletter or news programme. (@cybraryman1 's news page)
  • A movie.
  • A magazine for the local area including reviews, opinions, letters, features, etc. (via @antoniaclare).  This is something we've done at summer school where the students write a guide for students coming the following year.
  • A science fair, for example with animal categories - insects, birds, fish, mammals, etc. (via @Dawg_Houston).
  • Plan a music festival.
  • Something to help the community - building a sense of citizenship (via @CeciELT).
  • A podcast relating to the topic of the unit they are studying (via @antoniaclare).
  • A show made up of songs & skits in English (via @Sarah_WG).
  • Healthy eating, including tasks like keeping a food diary, making a food pyramid, etc.
  • An American style yearbook which could be printed and given as gifts at the end of the course (via @harrisonmike).
  • A 'memory book' using Bubblr or Bookr, both available at pimpampum.net.
  • Links to YouTube videos that you like and explanations why.
  • Share music videos and embed them in a class blog (via @web2literacy).
  • A long story written over a period of time, with the best ones being made into ebooks (via @evab2001).
  • A comic, perhaps using a site like http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/.
  • A commercial, either as a video clip or as a roleplay (via @notyetlanguage).
  • For multi-lingual groups (e.g. at summer school), an international cookbook or guide to international festivals/traditions/dress etc. where the students and you as the teacher learn a lot about how others live.
How do we Grade Projects?
  • Some contributors felt that projects shouldn't be graded at all - it's the process that's important and the presentation of the project is a reward in itself.
  • With ongoing projects, students still need to have a tangible outcome so that they can feel that they have reached the end, even if only of 'their' part. 
  • It can be difficult to assess/grade collaborative projects when group members put in different amounts of effort, but this can be addressed by ensuring that all members have an area of responsibility.  @teacher_prix told us that she likes to split the grades with one for overall work and one for individual effort.
  • For project work, perhaps it's better to give feedback or peer evaluation rather than a formal grade.
  • Perhaps the fact that the project has been worked on and completed should be the grade (via @pjgallantry).
  • We need some kind of assessment in order to justify incorporating project work into courses (via @web2literacy).
  • Asian cultures in particular crave a grade, so probably wouldn't enjoy non-graded project work (via @eyespeakbrasil).
  • You could make project work a competition, rather than something which is graded.  The winner could be determined by a 'jury' made up of the DOS, teachers and students.  There could even be a global 'project based' competition with ESL schools from around the world competing with each other (via @eyespeakbrasil).
Conclusion

I think all contributors to last night's chat felt that project work has an valuable role to play in the EFL classroom.  For me, being just 3 weeks away from returning to summer school where all of our classes are project-based, the chat gave me some great ideas to pass on to my fellow teachers when I get there!


Links

Notes on a project workshop by @kalinagoenglish
Deal with the Gantt diagram - an idea for a project suggested by @BethCagnol
A fab example of project work (via @harrisonmike)
Chuck Sandy's lipdubs project (via @antoniaclare)
Project based ESL learning (via @eyespeakbrasil)
A Dvolver story by @DinaDobrou Episode one and Episode two


Students presenting their 'rugby' project at Rugby Summer School, 2009






Monday, 20 June 2011

Quotation-Based Conversation Classes

As we come to the end of the academic year, I've been reflecting on what's worked well in the classroom this year and what hasn't been so successful.  One of my better ideas was a series of conversation classes, each of which was based on a famous quotation.

The classes were extra to the students' regular courses and were open to those at intermediate level and above.  They were held weekly and lasted for 90 minutes.  Each week, I posted the quotation, along with who said it, on the notice board in advance of the class, giving students the opportunity to collect their thoughts about the subject to be discussed.  Quite often, students came to class having also researched the speaker, which added an extra dimension to the discussion.

Some of the quotations which led to the liveliest, most interesting conversations this year were:


  • ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world.’                        Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian philosopher  
     
  • ‘I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, & then going away & doing the exact opposite.’                  G.K. Chesterton

  • ‘A true friend is someone who is there for you when he/she would prefer to be somewhere else.’                        Len Wein, American comic book writer

  • ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, & what you do are all in harmony.’                                                                    Mahatma Gandhi

  • ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’      St. Augustine

  • ‘I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.’             Martin Luther King

  • ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’        Albert Einstein

  • ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’                          Cicero, Roman orator & philosopher

  • ‘A life without love is like a year without summer.’     Swedish proverb

  • ‘Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt; sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth.’               Mark Twain

Those of you who use 'New English File' may well recognise some of these quotes from the pages of the student workbooks - this is where the original idea for the classes came from!

The pictures in this post came from this site, which is a great resource and which provided the posters to advertise this series of classes.

Obviously, the topic potential for this kind of lesson is limitless, and it's certainly an idea I'll be returning to when I move to my new school in the autumn.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Grammar Doesn't Have to be Grey......

........so says Michael Swan, so it must be true!!

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a seminar Michael gave in Venice on Wednesday, 15th June, 2011 and have blogged about my meeting with the man himself -When Andrea Met Michael.  This post is a summary of his presentation, the title of which was 'Grammar Doesn't Have to be Grey' with the byline, 'Designing Effective Grammar Teaching & Practice Materials'.

Introduction

When it comes to incorporating grammar into our EFL lessons, we need to strike the right balance.  Non-native teachers tend to do too much grammar as it puts them in control of the class, especially if their sudents know more vocabulary than they do or if they have better pronunciation.  On the other hand, native teachers tend to do insufficient grammar, often because they don't know it!

Grammar teaching should be made up of the 'three x's' - explanations, examples and exercises with the emphasis always being on the latter because students learn by what they do, not what they are told.

Explanations

  • Keep them short - 3 lines maximum
  • Remember that you don't need to tell students the whole truth - students need to understand from the outset that there are always exceptions
  • Make them clear - an example of how not to do it found in an English grammar book published in France: 'Modality is the coloured filter of our subjectivity through which we perceive reality.'!!
  • Use L1 especially at lower levels
  • Give visual support - use colour to highlight and use diagrams and timelines
  • The discovery method has only limited use when explaining grammar (for example, when teaching the use of for/since with present perfect).  In most cases, students want to be told!
Examples

  • Make them realistic - we have all seen ridiculous examples in text books over the years - these classics found in books used in Italy and France, for example:
                                   Birds fly high.
                                   The oxen are stepping on my feet. (To illustrate irregular plurals!)
                                   Come down from that tree so that I may kiss you.
  •  Examples do not have to be illustrated in texts - you can just use simple sentences
  • Texts are useful for certain grammar points - for example, in contextualising present perfect versus past simple.
  • Texts don't have to have something done to them - you don't always need comprehension questions or other activities - often, a no-hassle listening or reading is enough to illustrate the point.
  • Use the outside world:
                                   Signs - for example, to illustrate determiners:
                                                           Good Food Served Here
                                                           All Day.  Every Day.

                                                           Look Both Ways

                                                           No Cycles

                                   Cartoons - e.g., for negative imperative:

                                                           Marriage Guidance
                                                           Don't!!

                                   Quotations - these are memorable for reinforcing grammar points. e.g.:

                                                          Power corrupts - absolute power corrupts absolutely.
                                                                                                                       (Lord Acton)

                                   Poetry    

Exercises

  • There is a place for non-communicative exercises to concept check, particularly when you first present a point of grammar.
  • Exercises should be personalised - for example, when practising reported speech, ask the students, 'What did you think when you were small?'
  • Use bits of real text for gap fill exercises.
  • Use arrows and pictures to make students think
  • Get students to use their imagination - 'Imagine a situation............... what is being done/what is not being done.'
  • Ask student to write captions for cartoons.
  • Use the internet - both to practise a grammar point (e.g. Find some information about a person and write sentences in simple present to describe his or her daily routine) and to check what the teacher has said (e.g. Use a search engine to check which is the more normal form, 'beautifuller' or 'more beautiful').
  • Use humour up to a point - for instance, to practise will for future prediction, read some horoscopes and then get students to write their own for each other - the funnier, the better.  If students can make each other laugh in L2, it's very motivating.
  • If you are forced to use a boring textbook, hi-jack it! - for example, get students to re-write boring dialogues.
  • Use drawings - for example, to illustrate 'supposed to', get students to draw something (it doesn't matter how bad it is) and their classmates have to decide what it's supposed to be!
  • Exercises need to be a platform for more personalised and creative work by students.
Grammar and.........

Don't think of grammar in isolation.  Think of it in conjunction with other things:
  • Grammar and Culture - use poetry in the classroom.
  • Grammar and Thinking - do interesting, challenging exercises which make the students use their brains logically.
  • Grammar and Imagination - allow students to be creative.
  • Grammar and Vocabulary - how can we help students by teaching lexical chunks?
  • Grammar and Writing - for example, give students a text which uses a mixture of active and passive and get them to re-write it twice, firstly using only active and then using only passive.
  • Grammar and Reading - give sentence restructuring exercises.
  • Grammar and Informality - remember that informal and formal grammar is different and, if appropriate, teach both.
  • Grammar and Speech - highlight the differences between spoken and written English.
  • Grammar and Pronunciation - grammar consists of a lot of unstressed words - auxialiaries, prepositions, to of infinitive, etc. - which are difficult to hear, so don't forget to do lots of grammar listenings.
Conclusion

Grammar teaching should consist of:
  • 25% input (explanations & examples)
  • 75% output (exercises)
So, I hope I have done justice to Michael Swan's presentation.  I wanted to write up my notes for my own reference and hope that others will find them useful, too.

When Andrea met Michael

First, I must give credit to @sandymillin from whom I nicked the idea for the title of this post!   See here for her recent, memorable interview with @LizziePinard, 'When Sandy met Lizzie'.   Wait, perhaps I should also be giving credit to a much earlier movie which may well have inspired Sandy??!!  But no, let's keep this in the 'ELT' family!


So, back to 'When Andrea met Michael'..... If there is such a thing as an EFL groupie, then I'm not ashamed to say that I was one the other day.  Michael Swan, whose book, 'Practical English Usage', has been my constant companion throughout many years of teaching, came to Venice to give a seminar.   As soon as I heard about it, several months ago, I made up my mind to be there.   So it was that I was up at the crack of dawn and less than 40 minutes later, I was at the station berating my colleague for being five minutes late to meet me.   After a half-hour train journey and a 35 minute power walk across the city (allowing my colleague precisely 2 minutes to stop for a coffee and brioche en route!), we arrived at the venue.



We were greeted at the door by a smiling Robert McLarty, who was to be the second speaker on the programme. I'm ashamed to say that I was somewhat curt in my haste to get upstairs and into the seminar room so as not to miss the start of Michael's presentation!



It is often said that you should never meet your heroes as they can disappoint. So, was that the case for me today? No, on the contrary, as I am sure many of the readers of this blog who have met him before would confirm, Michael Swan is an unassuming, knowledgeable, personable, accommodating, thoroughly pleasant man! His presentation was entertaining and informative and the subject of a separate post, Grammar Doesn't Have to be Grey.

When his talk was over, all seminar attendees were given a copy of Michael's latest book, 'Oxford English Grammar Course - Intermediate', which he agreed to sign.   In the queue waiting for my moment with Michael, I heard several people musing on the incongruity of waiting to get a grammar book signed, but no-one walked away!   My (male) colleague chose not to have his copy signed, but he did kindly agree to be my photographer to record my moment for posterity!



After the whole seminar had ended (and Robert's part was equally valuable, as I have written about here), we again had the opportunity to speak with Michael and he wished me luck in my new job in Shanghai (more about that later!) and I left smiling, despite the 35 degree heat and the numerous bridges I had to cross to get back to the station.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Advanced Conversation Class - Piercings

As I tried to read my book on the bus on my way home yesterday evening, I was constantly distracted by the girl sitting in front of me. In 21st century Europe people with piercings through various parts of their anatomies are a common enough sight and, until last night, I have to say that I've been pretty ambivalent about them. Even the spectacle, many years ago, of a young male member of my staff showing off his newly pierced nipples to his colleagues, evoked in me a mere raised eyebrow and the unvoiced question as to what purpose the chain linking the two nipple rings could possibly have! (Answers on a postcard, please!) So, my opinion on this matter, as on many others, has always been, 'live and let live' - what people choose to do to their own bodies is their affair. Which is why I am surprised at my reaction to the girl on the bus!

I had seen her as I boarded the bus. I had registered the fact that she had several piercings on her face - through her nose, her lip, her ears, her eyebrow and her cheek - but had made no conscious judgement about her based on these body adornments. It wasn't until I sat down behind her and saw the piercing through the back of her neck that I found myself unable to concentrate on my reading and, more than that, found myself questioning what her motives could be for violating her body in such a way. What business is it of mine? Absolutely none, but I couldn't help myself!


Her piercing was like none I have ever seen before. It looked like a very thick  old-fashioned hatpin with a large cabochon depicting the Virgin Mary on one end, a protective stopper on the other, and a good 5 or 6 centimetres of metal hidden under her skin between the two. I wondered at first whether the 'ends' were simply stuck on her skin to give the illusion of a piercing, but no - the girl kept reaching behind her, fiddling with the pin and demonstrating quite clearly that it did indeed go under her skin.


I honestly don't know why I felt such a strong reaction against this girl's 'body art'. Was it the size of the thing? Was it a matter of where it was on her body? Was it the religious image (I'm not a particularly religious person)? I just don't know! I questioned myself as much as the girl's reasons for having it and, ever the teacher on the lookout for a lesson idea, took a surreptitious photo of it to use in my advanced conversation class! (I haven't reproduced it here because, though I doubt the girl in question would be identified through it, I didn't ask her permission and my action could quite rightly be construed as an invasion of privacy!!)
 
Thus, today, we had a discussion lesson on the pros & cons of piercings.  To encourage debate, I presented my picture, hidden in a selection of photos of piercings (one of which is reproduced here), to my class of young(ish) students and elicited their responses.  I asked them to arrange the photos on the table: firstly, in order of how socially acceptable they thought the piercings were; secondly, in order of how likely they would be to have each type of piercing themselves; and thirdly, in order of how upset they would be if their younger brother or sister came home with such a piercing.  As you can imagine, the discussion was lively, to say the least, especially as I had insisted that they reach a consensus within their groups. 
 
The results were very interesting.  There was a general feeling that the whole question was outside of their experience and that no piercing, other than through the earlobes, would ever be appropriate (I do live & teach in a very conservative northern Italian town!).  So what about the 'bolt' through the back of the neck?  Well, using reason & logic, the students generally thought that this was probably one of the most socially acceptable piercings because, as they pointed out, it wouldn't be immediately visable & it could be hidden quite easily under clothing.  However, in terms of initial shock reactions & in answer to the final question, all the groups agreed that the neck piercing was the worst.  And they were doubly shocked when I revealed that I had seen it on a local bus.........!!
 
I have to say, I felt somewhat vindicated!!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

To Intermediate and Beyond...... #eltchat Summary

This is a summary of the #eltchat which took place on Twitter at 12 noon BST on Wednesday 4th May, 2011. The topic was:

What stops many adult learners from progressing beyond intermediate level?  Is there a barrier?

(Or, as the question was posed by @pjgallantry, 'Is there some kind of linguistic 'glass ceiling' which some students simply can't get through?') 


As usual, it was a fast & furious chat, but, on this occasion, it separated quite neatly in to two parts:

1. The answer to the original question
2. What can we do to motivate and help   students who want to progress, but who are finding it difficult?






Reasons why students stop at intermediate level

  • Intermediate level is simply good enough for most people's needs
  • Students run out of time
  • There's a realisation that it's just too difficult beyond intermediate level (e.g. the exam expectations for PET & FCE are markedly different) 
  • When learners hit intermediate level, they can get by in most situations & sometimes decide they don't need to improve
  • Learning English becomes more tricky & time-consuming after this level
  • Spiky profiles can be a barrier, e.g. poor writing skills can hold some students back
  • A lack of motivation & interest
  • Some students are put off by having to do more writing at advanced levels
  • Some people have a propensity for languages & some don't 
  • It's human nature - we start new things with a lot of interest & gradually the interest wanes
  • The jump from intermediate is seen as being too high, especially when using course books
  • It is much harder to sense (from the student's point of view) and to measure (from the teacher's viewpoint) progress from intermediate to advanced than it is in the lower levels
  • A sense of frustration - of 'getting nowhere fast'
  • Government funding for migrant English courses runs out at intermediate level leading to a big drop-out after that (this from @cioccas in Australia)
  • Students are learning English for a particular reason (e.g. driving lessons) & this need is met by reaching intermediate level
  • Learners have other responsibilities (e.g. work & children) which prevent them from continuing their English studies
  • It's difficult for students to progress beyond intermediate level if they don't live in an English-speaking country (this was disputed!)
  • Students are unable to afford private language tuition & funded upper-intermediate & advanced courses aren't easy to come by
  • Many advanced level courses are exam based & this isn't always relevant/appropriate for students
  • Intermediate level is often good enough to get a job, even jobs teaching English in some cases!
  • Learners become demotivated due to a focus on grammar rather than on communication
  • Real proficiency in a language requires a breadth of knowledge (language & culture) that many adults don't have time to invest in
  • The internet is influencing drop out rates - students feel they have learned enough to be able to progress online on their own
  • Students don't understand that their learning needs to 'expand' rather than progress in a 'linear' fashion during the upper levels
  • Perhaps teachers need to question themselves as to whether they are to blame for students not continuing?
  • @englishraven reminded us not to assume that learners just 'stop' - perhaps they stop taking classes and progress well enough without them


At the end of the first 'half' of the chat, the question was asked as to whether teachers were superfluous beyond intermediate level.  Having established that we still had a role to play (thanks, @theteacherjames!), we went on to discuss:


What can we do to help students to progress?

  • Motivation is the key! (@Thamesville told us about the samurai students in Japan who truly want to master the language!)
  • Perhaps our intermediate courses should inspire students to continue to the upper levels
  • Aim for fluency rather than communicative ability to excite students who have reached a plateau
  • One-to-one attention is important as all learners have different 'plateaus' (clearly, this is easier when teaching individuals rather than  groups
  • Make an effort to make students realise that they are progressing, despite how it feels to them
  • Offer non-exam based upper level courses using authentic materials rather than course books
  • Compare students' work at the beginning & the end of their course to show them their progress, through a written task, a presentation, or by recording them
  • Use language in as realistic scenarios & settings as possible
  • Move beyond the coursebook (back to dogme again!)
  • Encourage students to see English as the medium through which things are learned, rather than as a subject to be learned.  We can do this through offering courses in art, cookery, English literature, history, etc in English (CLIL in action?) As @sandymillin told us, 'What helps me is an interest in the cultural side of things... language is secondary - the way I find out more about the culture'
  • Encourage students to use their English outside the classroom
  • More portfolio work so that students see an improvement & can go back & mark their own work
  • Give learners more say in developing materials & lesson ideas 
  • Encourage self-directed & reflective learning with the classroom acting as much more of a meeting place
  • Develop extensive reading or a love of music or film to motivate students to go further (the extensive reading idea proved very popular & might well be the topic of a future #eltchat!)
  • Take more of a task-based, experiential approach with upper levels
  • Get students to teach each other a lot more by rotating leadership in class
  • Suggest that students set up their own 'English club' where they can meet & chat in English, preferably over a glass or two - we all agreed that most students' levels improve after a drop of the hard stuff!

Other points

  • From @hartle - some learners are happy with intermediate level and want to maintain it (@rliberni 'if you don't use it, you'll surely lose it!'), so then we need to look at maintenance courses focusing on discussion groups with skills & some language work, but with a greater social element
  • @englishraven pointed out that coursebook sales taper off sharply after intermediate level 
  • It's difficult to get good teachers for upper levels - many don't do well under the spotlight & are afraid of getting caught out by difficult questions. Also, with ELT Taylorism & wage structures, the good & experienced professionals have disincentives to hang about
  • @englishraven suggested that coursebooks for upper levels should be more like magazines with more content & fewer exercises. @rliberni proposed an adaptable print on demand book.
  • @legyened reminded us that we should also celebrate the fact that so many students manage to get to intermediate level unscathed & with their love for English intact!
  • The move from intermediate to upper levels was expressed in a metaphor by @LizziePinard - 'rather than being like a river, it becomes more like an expanding lake .... and with no current moving them along, they get sluggish to keep swimming!' I think quite a few of us enjoyed this analogy!!

In conclusion, the consensus was that many students stop at intermediate level simply because they don't need to go on and we, as teachers, need to accept this and to be there for them if and when they have a need for higher level English.  For those learners who want to continue to improve, but are finding it difficult for whatever reason, we have to be needs aware and be in a position to offer alternative learning strategies to enable them to reach their goals.


Links:

Via @cioccas 'Moving Beyond the Plateau' by Jack C. Richards - video and PDF

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Fiat 500 Festival, Treviso - 10th April 2011




One of the things I like best about living here in Treviso is the fact that virtually every weekend there is something happening in the city centre.  We never seem to see these events advertised anywhere so, invariably, we stumble across them during our leisurely Sunday walks.  In this way, we have enjoyed, at different times:



  • a chocolate celebration, which included entire rusty tool kits made of chocolate which begged the question, 'Why?'!!
  • a raddichio fair when the entire main square was covered with a carpet of this prized local vegetable and we were able to sample such delights as raddichio cheese, raddichio wine and even raddichio gelato!
  • an open-air nativity play with real animals a la The Vicar of Dibley!
  • a huge outdoor playpen for babies and toddlers featuring more toys than I have ever seen in one place.
  • an Austrian wurst market.
  • a skating rink.
  • a picturesque Slovakian Christmas market with the best gingerbread I have ever tasted.
  • a fruit and vegetable carving expo.
as well as numerous antique fairs, book markets, plant sales, art displays, craft stalls, and specialist food fairs.  The list goes on.  There is always something happening!

And then last weekend ....... the Fiat 500 Festival!!

As usual, we didn't know it was on in advance.  We had been for a long walk and were heading home when we saw a few of these iconic cars heading for the city centre.  We followed them and came upon about 300 of them massed in the Piazza dei Signori and the streets leading to it.  I defy anyone not to smile when they see an example of this epitome of Italian eccentricity and here we had hundreds of them pimped, polished and paraded through the streets for all to see!!

There were cinquecentos in every colour with many of the drivers dressed to match their vehicle!  There was a 'Hello Kitty' version; one painted to look like the sky; a 'half-500' where the already-tiny car had been sliced in half to look like a two-seater settee on wheels; a very old model complete with old-fashioned wooden skis and poles which were so much bigger than the car itself; and even one which had been entirely covered in postage stamps!  There were also a couple of examples of the Fiat 600, the fantastic three-row, six-seater model with the flat windscreen which was used in Rome as a taxi, and which was immortalised in the film Roman Holiday.

We just couldn't stop grinning as we walked amongst these funky cars - a great way to spend a Sunday morning!




I've included some photos with this blogpost and you can see more here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

MobiMOOC - Reflections on Week One

Well, week one of the mobiMOOC course has been inspiring, interesting, baffling, frustrating, absorbing, time-consuming, and thought-provoking - probably all in equal measure!

I have learned a lot and have found some of the links really useful.   For example, I am now fully conversant with Evernote and have become one of its most vociferous advocates almost overnight.  I have also learned (finally!) how to correctly place a link in a blog post (see previous link to Evernote!).  I am also getting to grips with QR codes, although I have to say that I am not yet fully 'au fait' with these!  I think I'm beginning to understand a lot of the terminology associated with m-learning, and I have made some useful contacts in my field of EFL teaching.  I have also been mightily impressed with Inge 'Ignatia' de Waard in her role as facilitator for week one - I don't believe she can have slept at all this week judging by her almost continuous online presence!

So, it's all been good then?  Well, no, not really!  I feel like I've had to plough through a lot of irrelevant or repetitive material to get to the useful nuggets.  As an ardent supporter of the 'Plain English Campaign', I have found some of the jargon incomprehensible.  A glossary which explained the numerous acronyms and other specialist vocabulary would have been quite useful.  This is why I was drawn to and commented on, the post by Jenni Parker when she attempted to define the terms.  She blogged about it here

For me, speaking as a teacher, the first rule of learning is that it should be fun.  Don't get me wrong, I take my job very seriously, but see the key to my success as a teacher as being my ability to engage my students by making their lessons enjoyable for them.  Fun has been a little lacking for me in week one of mobiMOOC.  The contributions from participants have been commendable - informative and stimulating - and yet somewhat earnest.  So, I have to say that a highlight of the week for me was watching the recording of the Elluminate Live session (I was unable to participate on Monday night due to teaching committments).  One of the contributors, John, popped up centre screen and started eating his supper, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we could all see him!  Inge made reference to the fact and John, rather than switching his webcam off, simply angled it to give us all a view of the top of his head and the ceiling.  I know I could have closed the window, but I kept it open just in case John had any other tricks up his sleeve!  Thanks, John, for giving me a laugh!!

So, am I disheartened after the first week of mobiMOOC?  No!  I will continue and I am sure I will learn more as the weeks go on.  I'm no nearer to deciding on my mlearning project, but, as this is the topic for week two, I am confident that will change.

I'll let you know this time next week!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

MobiMOOC 2 April - 14 May 2011

I signed up for this free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about mobile learning a few days ago, having seen a link during an #eltchat about the subject on Twitter on Wednesday evening. During the said chat, I felt like I was missing something - like I wasn't really part of the gang. I was ashamed of my own ignorance, so I decided to do something about it and registered for the course.

What on earth is a MOOC? This was my first question, so I turned to the oracle that is YouTube & found several videos including this one which gave me the answer:



Having established what a MOOC was, I now had to get to grips with what mlearning was. I lurked around the mobiMOOC wiki (http://mobimooc.wikispaces.com/a+MobiMOOC+hello%21) and the group discussion pages (http://groups.google.com/group/mobimooc?hl=en). I read all the information provided by the facilitators and the posts from course participants. And then came the revelation! I'm not as ignorant as I thought I was! Unfamiliar with the jargon certainly, but not totally clueless in reality.

You see, I already engage in mlearning every day. I just didn't know I was doing it! I use my mobile phone to talk, to send & receive messages, and to take photos which I sometimes use in class. I use my i-Pod Touch to access the internet via wi-fi, to manage my contacts and my diary, to keep notes, and to listen to podcasts and share them with my students. I use my laptop to do everything else, including to write my blog. All of these things, I now understand, are mlearning!

Forgive me for being a bit late to the party, but I'm here now and I won't be lurking behind the curtains any more! I'm starting to go through the course materials and following up on links provided by my fellow participants. I'm hugely encouraged by what I have seen so far and I'm really looking forward to being more actively involved over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Blog4NZ: The Earthquakes - a Personal View





The idea behind the Blog4NZ initiative is to signal to the world that the wonderful country of New Zealand is very much 'open for business' and to encourage travellers to book their tickets and get on down there a.s.a.p.. You can find out more here: http://blog4nz.indietravelmedia.com/. The idea is to look forwards to the future and not to focus on the past, particularly the earthquakes themselves. I, however, have nothing else to focus on. I have never been to New Zealand (see my previous post: http://worldteacher-andrea.blogspot.com/2011/03/blog4nz-world-teachers-blog-resurrected.html) so I'm blogging here through the eyes of my youngest nephew, Tom, who was living in Christchurch at the time of both quakes. His story, told here in his own words, vividly illustrates the anguish and devastation caused by these natural phenomena and explains what it was like to live through them. Far from dissuading people from travel to New Zealand, however, Tom's story should serve as a spur to everyone to visit and to help re-build the economy of this beautiful country peopled by, in Tom's words, 'kind, loving souls who were always going out of their way to help others, especially when the earthquakes happened'.

Tom left home in the UK in March 2009 at the age of 22. It was his first foray in to long-distance, long-term travel, and some family members suggested that he would probably be back home in three weeks! How wrong they were!! After spending a year in Australia, Tom moved to New Zealand, first to Auckland, and then on to Christchurch, which he loved. He was looking for somewhere a bit more low-key and smaller than Melbourne, where he had been previously, so Christchurch fitted the bill. He liked the fact that he could get to the city, the beach, or wherever he was working within 20 minutes by bus. And he particularly liked the people - always the people! He remained in the city after the first quake hit to help with the clean-up in his adopted home. Back in Europe, his family were all worried about him, but, at the same time, very proud of the decision he made.

This is Tom's account:

"When the first quake hit on September 4th at 4.35am, it was an experience that changed my way of thinking about life, the world and myself. My understanding of earthquakes has dramatically improved. An earthquake is not as simple as, 'bang, bang, shake, shake - did you survive or didn't you?' It's a slow and quite sadistic event. I awoke to everything moving. For about five seconds I just lay there not knowing what was happening. Was I dreaming? Was I being attacked? My brain hadn't contemplated what was actually happening - it hadn't caught up with the reality of the situation. Then I heard the sound of glass smashing. It felt like a slap in the face. Survival mode kicked in. I got up to run, but as soon as my foot touched the jelly-like floor, I collapsed. I scrambled to my feet, but then went down again as quickly as I'd got up. The noise was so intense, so violent, so crippling. I found my way to my feet and was falling for the third time, but I had made it to my door handle so managed to hold myself up with that. As soon as I touched the handle, everything slowed down. The giant train had passed leaving only a couple of ripples behind it.

Then, hearing the sounds of sirens, alarms and my housemates shouting, I rushed out to see if everyone was OK and to try and make sense of it all. Seeing glass on the floor and everything out of place, but knowing that my friends were OK, was a giant relief. Minutes later we heard another rumble and I know now that you have about two seconds to brace yourself and hope that it's a small shock.

The aftershocks continued for two to three months, going from seven or eight shocks a day to two or three and then none. The best way to describe it would be that it's like a ball bouncing from a great height, and then bouncing less and less and less, with the slight twist that the ball had been bounced a little harder on the seventh or twelfth bounce - kind of like a heart monitor.

For a couple of months after the quake, I would lie in bed each night just about to go to sleep and the noise of death would come to me and my body would clench up. Is it another big one? Is this the one? Sleep was very elusive during those months. You could tell that this was affecting not just me but the whole of Christchurch. I would walk into the supermarket in the days and weeks following the quake and people's expressions were always ones of sadness and sleep deprivation. The earthquake was the hot topic of conversation. There's not much else to talk about after such a big event, I guess. Christchurch needed a big hug, that's for sure, and probably, more importantly, a good night's sleep.

As for the infrastructure of the city, it wasn't as bad as I had thought. Where I lived, in St. Albans, we nicknamed it as 'the chimney capital'. One in three houses had no chimney. We got off lightly. Other areas had a lot of liquefaction where the ground had been sieved and all the sand and sediment had risen to the top. A couple of buildings had collapsed, but the only death had been due to a heart attack. So, as 7.1 magnitude earthquakes go, we had been very lucky.

So, as time went on, the shakes slowed down and people began to go out. They started to smile again. Life was getting back to normal, but every so often, there would be a shake just to keep you from forgetting. By December, I was sleeping and enjoying myself again. Then, on Boxing Day, we had another quite big aftershock which reminded me to always be on my guard. Then there was nothing really until February 22nd at 12.51pm. I really did feel that the quakes were all over.

I had always thought to myself, 'If another big one comes, will I know when to run?' We had had so many aftershocks that they had become the norm. First the noise, then the shake, and then ... nothing. So, we shrugged them off, but this time... I knew. The noise was back. The violence was back. In a split second, I ran out of my room to the lounge. The fridge door had been thrown open and all of the contents had been chucked out on the floor. Every cupboard was open. This was incredibly scary. I turned and looked at my housemate, Jackie. She screamed, 'Get out!'. So, jumping over everything to get to the front door, we escaped and leaned against the wall outside. Everything stopped. Then the noise of the alarms and the sirens started up. Seconds later, there was another aftershock. I watched a neighbour's car lift up off all four wheels. Then I heard one of the most sickening noises I have ever heard, or ever hope to hear. It sounded like a house collapsing, but, in fact, it was much worse. The wall connecting a whole terrace of houses had fallen down. Who knew how many people were under there?

I've learned a lot about earthquakes. The damage caused depends on many factors including the depth, the nagnitude, the force, the location and the time of day. The 7.1 was longer, but much deeper than the February quake. Being so shallow, the February one did so much more damage. Roads twisted, giant trees felled, rivers flooded - pure devastation.

Finding out that all of my friends and housemates were OK was a massive relief, but knowing what had happened to the city and to all those people who had died was very hard to get my head around. For two days I couldn't speak. The mental toll of earthquakes is so destructive - so numbing. I was lost. I didn't know what to do. We didn't have water. We didn't have toilets. I had to make a big decision. I found out that I, like many other visitors to Christchurch, was being offered a way to leave the country. I thought it was probably my best option. I had just an hour to say my goodbyes and then, after two years away, I was on my way home.

Now back in the UK, I still kind of feel that I ran away, but what could I do? I just wanted to see my family. That's all I wanted.

After everything that's happened, I would head back to New Zealand in a heartbeat. The people are fantastic. The country is so beautiful. There is so much more that I have to see. I will go back to Christchurch. I owe it to myself and to the people who helped me during a very difficult time in my life. My friends are still there coping with the aftershocks. I want to see them again.

As for travelling, I want to see every golden beach, every snowy mountain, every beautiful sea. I want to see it all and I will. The world is so small and time is so short. When it rains, I won't complain. I'm alive. So many are not. My problems are tiny compared to those of millions of people around the world. I'm going to live my life, that's for sure."



And so I post this on behalf of our nephew, Tom, who went away a boy and came back a man - a man who we're all so very proud of!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Aphrodisias – Turkey’s Best Kept Secret


An unplanned visit to the ancient site of Aphrodisias turned out to be a highlight of our tour around Turkey. It isn't a well-publicised place; indeed, many Turks don't know of its existence. When I returned to school in Istanbul after our trip and told my students about it, none of them had even heard of it, let alone visited. And yet, for me, it is much more impressive than the better-known sites of Ephesus, Pergamon and Troy.


Aphrodisias is located to the west of the city of Denizli. If you're staying in Pamukkale, then there is a daily minibus service which will take you there, give you 3 hours to explore the site, and then return you to your hotel. The journey takes about 2 hours each way and the fare is 30TL per person. We knew very little about the site before our visit and were undecided whether or not to go, considering that it would occupy a whole day, but, fortunately for us, the owner of our hotel recommended it, so we decided to go. What a revelation!


In Roman times, Aphrodisias was one of the main centres for the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility, to whom the city was dedicated. The town also became the seat of one of the greatest schools of sculpting during the classical era, making use of marble quarried from the slopes of Babadag, just 2km from Aphrodisias. Recent excavations have revealed sculpting workshops, and sculptured figures found here have each single hair separately worked, the faces and eyes are full of expression and vitality, and the bodies appear supple and almost capable of movement. The work produced here was of extremely high quality and, indeed, many of the reliefs and statues found in Rome and Athens bear the signatures of artists from Aphrodisias.


What the visitor sees when he visits Aphrodisias today is the result of many years of hard work which still continues. The site was first discovered by Frenchman, Paul Gaudin, in 1905, but excavations didn't begin in earnest until the 1950s. Because of this, lessons were learnt from earlier digs, and all of the finds were kept on site rather than being shipped off to far flung corners of the world. Some of these are now housed in a purpose-built museum, so the whole story is there for you to see. Most of the major excavations were led by a Turkish professor from New York University, Kenan Tevfik Erim. He first worked at Aphrodisias in 1961 and continued until his death in 1990. Fittingly, he is buried on site, and there is a bust of him in the entrance to the museum. As I said, the work goes on and new evidence of this magnificent city is constantly being revealed.


The highlights that you can see today include a wonderfully preserved theatre with seating for 7000 people and a council chamber with blue marble seating for 350. There is also the temple of Aphrodite with its fantastic spiral-fluted columns and mosaic floor. The agora, measuring 205 by 120 metres, is also noteworthy, as are the baths of Hadrian. As if all of this is not enough, you must not miss the stadium. We almost did! As we were walking around the site, we noticed a knee-high sign indicating 'stadium'. We looked in the direction it was pointing, but couldn't see anything. It was a very hot day, so we were tempted to ignore the sign, but something made us go. I'm so pleased we did! We walked 500 metres or so along a rough track through scrubland. Ahead of us was a very high, long, grassy bank. As we got closer, we saw a break in the bank. We walked through this gap and were completely blown away by what we saw. It is a perfectly preserved sports stadium with seating for more than 30,000 people, and we were the only visitors! It is colossal - more than 262 metres long. We read later that in its heyday it staged athletics competitions to rival the Olympic Games, and that today it is the biggest and most complete stadium of its kind anywhere in the world. And to think that we almost didn't see it!


In Roman times, Aphrodisias was home to 15,000 people. None of the ordinary houses have yet been excavated, so there is still an awful lot of work to be done. Hopefully, we will make a return visit one day to see how they are getting on!