Thursday, 30 December 2010

New Directions

The year's just about done and dusted and the new one is fast approaching. It's time for some reflection. In May I posted some thoughts called Back-Up Plan inspired by Alex Case over at TEFLtastic

Now, I'm not the most original of thinkers. This post is inspired by something that Jason Renshaw said in a comment about Back Up Plan (Thank you). Jason pointed out that  whilst back up plans are one thing, using what you know and creating new directions are another

So the new year is looming and I think it's time for just that!.In my search for continuous development and improvement. I've narrowed down my attempt to create some new directions for 2011 to just three.

1) MA Time - Inspired by people in my PLN such as Dave Dodgson with his helpful MA reflections .  I've all but decided that it's time to take the plunge and do my MA. Originally I wanted to do an MA focused on Young Learners at York University but it's too expensive. 

The reality of in ELTing around the world means that even after doing my MA , I won't be earning much more money afterwards so, it has to be affordable. Luckily the Dip gives you 60 credits with many universities so, I've saved some money already (using what I have and what I know) Yippee... just have to save about 5,000 euros and I'll make it!

2) Cambridge Examiner - My next plan to make more cash (which I'll need to pay for the MA) and to spread my wings and learn something new, is to become an examiner for Cambridge. This would be both really interesting and a great personal challenge. The problem is that it's proving very difficult. There seems to be a bit of a monopoly by  existing examiners around my neck of the woods. I'm thinking of offering my services free of charge just to get some experience. Does anyone know anything about becoming an examiner for Cambridge?

3) CLIL Specialist - Finally I've decided that in Spain, CLIL is gaining in popularity and is worth investing time and money in. So, I'm on the lookout for CLIL courses online to help me get closer to my goal. Anyone know of anything good out there?

The list is short, and my hopes are high! Lets see what happens in 2011. 

If you don't try you'll never know. Anyone else trying new directions for 2011?

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Born or made?

When I was young I used to ride horses. I spent my childhood in jodhpurs and wellies. I was told that I was ' a natural' with horses. I wasn't  'a natural' at maths, science, or school in general. I wasn't ' a natural' sailor, skier or water skier. I have no special talent for cooking or writing.

One day, along came teaching and once again I was labelled  ' a natural'. So, what does it mean '? 

Lets set the scene, this was way back when RSA CELTAs existed. I was 23 and had never taught anything. I knew very little, to nothing about English grammar or teaching so, what were they talking about?

Good Teachers are born NOT made.

Enough of blowing my own trumpet. 

This post was sparked by a great #eltchat about soft skills in teaching last Wednesday. If you are thinking What are those ? , don't worry, so was I before the chat. I suppose you could say that soft skills are people skills, roughly speaking. 

I don't think that you can teach these qualities I think they're innate. That's why a four week Cert course can be all that some people need. If you already have the soft skills required  such as empathy, patience, a willingness to learn and rapport ,to name but a few, you're off to a running start. It's not rocket science after all!

You can learn the subject and be very knowledgeable but without these personal qualities you will never be a 'good' teacher. Teaching is an 'art', a 'vocation' and a 'privilidge'.

What do you think BORN or MADE?
 What can be taught?
Just read this article TES The Myth of Presence 
What do you think? 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Recycling Vocabulary in Primary ELT

This is a simple but effective way to recycle vocabulary with YLs.

This is my vocabulary box. This one was made with very young learners in mind so ,the pictures and box are a bit babyish. 

You can choose another design for older children, more appropriate to their ages and interests. The first step is the box. The children love the box in itself. It never fails to stir their interest when I walk into class with it. After you've made your box the fun starts.

As I teach all of my YL classes using a coursebook, we have a lot of flashcards. I collect them in the box and we play a lot of games with them. Here are a few of my favourite games:

1. I've lost my voice : Sit the children in a circle. Ask one of the children to come to the front. They take out a picture flashcard. You tell them that they've lost their voice. They're only allowed to mouth the word to the other students. The students watch and guess the word. This is a lovely quiet activity and a great, fun way to recycle vocabulary.

2. Pictionary: Fill the box with word cards instead of picture flashcards. Sit the the children in a circle as before. One child takes out a word card and draws a visual representation of the word on the board. Children take it in turn to guess the word.

3. I'm the teacher : This can be used for fast finishers. If you have children that have finished an activity earlier they can get the box and take it turns in being the teacher by quizzing their friends on the vocabulary. 

4.Make a sentence : With older students they can take a word or picture flashcard and make a sentence that includes that word.  Helps children to 'know' a word by giving them practice in using it in a sentence.

5. Spelling Bee: Take a flashcard and spell the word. Helps children to 'know' a word by being able to spell it.

What games  and activities do you play to recycle vocabulary?

Inspired by Emma Herrod's post - The Two - Week Vocabulary Blogging Challenge

More Great Games for YLS from Dave Dodgson at Reflections of a Teacher and Learner

Sunday, 28 November 2010

FWD Messages

You either love them or hate them. I have a rocky relationship with them. I often delete them without reading. Especially when I open my in box and see no 'real' mails from family, and friends just forward messages. It's often really annoying. The messages themselves, if you do open them ,range from annoying to inspiring. They take many forms. There are jokes, stories, warnings and tales, they can be overly sensitive, sexist, racist, narrow minded and just plain irritating.

But if you look closely there are some that can be exploited for use in the English classroom. About year ago I used my first forward message in class. It was part of a lesson on based on the film The Bucket List. The forward message I used was from my niece and it was about life experiences. It was just a simple tick format with questions like:

Have you ever skinny dipped?
Have you ever climbed a mountain?

The message was rich in language and generated a great deal of interest and discussion about members of the class and their life experiences. Students were happy to talk about things that they had done and others were happy to listen. It was materials light and produced a great deal of conversation.

My second experiment using a forward message was more recently. I used in on a communicative competence course with a group of upper intermediate/advanced adults. This time is was called How old is grandpa? Here is an excerpt:

One evening a grandson was talking to his grandfather about current events.
The grandson asked his grandfather what he thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and things in general.

The Grandfather replied, "Well, let me think a minute, I was born before:

' television

' penicillin

' polio shots

' frozen foods

' Xerox

' contact lenses

' Frisbees and

' the pill

There were no:

' credit cards 

' laser beams or

' ball-point pens

At the end, the students had to guess how old they thought grandpa was. This led to  a discussion about things they remembered from their childhoods and led to some great conversations about washing, machines, cars mobile phones and e-mail.

Two conversations I remember vividly are J explaining about when his family got their first automatic washing machine. He explained how everyone was so excited about it's first wash cycle. They all sat there watching it - the whole family - everyone was amazed until it started jumping up and down and making a terrible noise. It seems that they'd forgotten to take the bolts out of the drum that hold it during transport!

V told a story about how in her first family car as a child in Cameroon you could actually see through the floor to the street below. The FWD message helped them to remember stories from their past. It stimulated their VOICES.

Last week I used a FWD message about aging in class with the same students. We read the message and then we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of getting older. Again the message led to another great discussion. Here is an excerpt:

I would never trade my amazing friends, my  wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly..  As I've aged, I've become kinder to myself, and less critical of  myself. I've become my own friend.. I don't chide myself for eating  that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn't need, but  looks so avante garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be  messy, to be extravagant.

After class one of the students approached me and asked if I could give her a copy of this FWD message. As she was asking, two other students came up and asked the same thing. I promptly took down their e-mail addresses and sent them it when I got home.

Christmas is coming and as luck would have it a student of mine sent me a great  FWD message that's going to come in handy. It's about a letter written to God at Christmas by an old lady. I'll forward it you you if you're interested...

Not all FWD messages are appropriate and not all FWD messages have great content but there are some that can be used in class and  I think that they can be really useful as a classroom tool.

What do you think? Have I gone ever so slightly mad? FWD this to all your friends!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Multiple Choice Dogme Challenge # 6 (or not?)

WANTED : German Teacher

I've finally decided that I have to have German lessons. Imagine you are me. Answer the question truthfully. It's multiple choice. You can only choose one answer.

You have decided to learn German. You can choose your teacher. You have the following options.

a) a native German speaker with no teaching experience.
b) a non- native German speaking teacher, who is qualified and experienced.
c) a native German who is a qualified and experienced teacher.

I choose C. 

On paper it seems the right choice.

The best of both worlds. 

Native, qualified and experienced. 

What more could you ask for? 

It's never black and white right? 

Who would you choose?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Can you hear me? Dogme Challenge # 5

Providing space for the learners' voice means accepting that the learners' beliefs, knowledge, experiences, concerns & desires
are valid content in the language learning classroom.
Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged
, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

Karenne Sylvester’s latest dogme challenge starts with this quote. I sometimes get the feeling when I’m teaching from a course book that I’m just going through the motions. By this I mean, that it can feel mechanical and impersonal. Even if authors include personal questions it can seem contrived. I try to avoid these moments but inevitably they occur. Often as teachers we are pushed into rushing through the course book by external pressures such the syllabus, the director of the school, the students and even the parents.  It’s really important to remember to give our students a chance to use their voice and stop and listen them. This in fact can often be harder said than done.

I find it much easier to hear the voices of my one-to-one students. and clases where I have less than 8 students. To a great extent their classes can be tailored both to their personal needs, and interests.  This of course is a luxury. Obviously the majority of language teaching throughout the world is not done like this.

I spend 26 hours in classes with between 18 and 31 students. Off the top of my head that’s around 300 students.  This is my reality and the reality of many other teachers out there. I look out at a forest. A forest of hands, faces, voice, beliefs, needs and interests. Many of those are screaming for attention, some seem indifferent and some are trying to hide!

I can honestly say that I’m two months into the school year and I haven’t even learnt their names yet. Okay I know some of the brightest, the loudest, the naughtiest but there are loads that I have absolutely no idea about. I’ve given many of them the chance to speak in class but I’ve not heard their VOICES. It takes time to get to know so many children and to learn a little bit about them and their interests.

I can listen to children in class repeat sentences and parrot phrases but I only really hear them when I know something about them. I need to know something about their family, friends and their interests. I need to get a feeling about who they are. This takes time and is not easy to do when you have a course book pressing down on you!

How can we give children a voice? And how can we teach them to listen to others?

  • ·   Personalize language learning by asking them about their likes and dislikes and by choosing material they’re intested in.

  • ·   Getting to know a bit about all of them. I like to build up a list of facts and information about them. I fill out a simple form with information such as their favourite animals, colours, sports, group, parents’ and siblings’ names, pets’ names and other info.Write kids names on piece of paper and fill in the info bit by bit each class.

  •      Once you have this list you can ask them simple questions about their family and pets and other things. I like to ask the whole class questions like : Whose dog’s name’s Rufus? and wait for the answer. Slowly they build up a picture of their classmates too.
  • Lots of group work where children have to listen and collaborate with others. It's noisey and difficult in the beginning but once children have learnt how to listen to others and work in a group it gets easier. Practice is the key and lots of patience.
  •      I remember doing show and tell at school with my dog Lassie. I was in school the other day and one of the children had brought in his pet turtle to show his classmates and to talk about. Why not get children to bring in photos of their families, houses, holidays pets and other stuff. 
  •        I like to take in photos of me when I was a child and do a bit
of  show and tell. Children love seeing their teacher as a child and it helps  to break down barriers.

How else can we foster and environment where children learn to listen to others? And find their own voices? How can we teach in a way that helps us to hear our students? Any ideas?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The case for and against native language assistants

I’ve finally found the time to catch up on all the posts that I’ve missed and I have to say that there were over a 100 on my google reader. One in particular caught my eye over at TEFLtastic entitled Is there any need for native language assistants? This is a theme close to my heart and even closer to my wallet, as this is where I earn the majority of my income.

I am a native language assistant. I work in a primary and secondary school. I’m also a Diploma qualified TEFL teacher. Working as an assistant over the past three years I’ve had time think about whether there is a need for native language assistants and this is what I think.

In theory, non - Nests should have a level of English high enough that they do not require the linguistic assistance of a native assistant. By this I mean that teachers should have a minimum level of English which I would say should be B2 in primary and C1 in secondary.

Teachers should be knowledgeable enough about English culture that they do not need an assistant as a cultural ambassador. Teachers should be trained in modern methods and be able to use a wide range of resources and communicative methodologies.

If this were the case I think that there would be no need for native language assistants and the money could be better spent on other resources. Sadly, in my situation this is not the case.

Many teachers in primary schools that I’ve worked in do not have a good enough command of the English language to be teaching it. Their methods are often outdated and heavily course book oriented. There’s a lot of reading aloud and children are often still sitting in rows facing the blackboard.

Yes, there are exceptions and yes things are changing. There does seem to be a new breed of younger teachers whose level of English is much higher and whose methods are much more modern. But until this becomes the norm, rather than the exception there will still be a need for native language assistants.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Teaching "Jolly Phonics" - Coral George

I'm pleased to host Coral George talking about how she started to teach the "Jolly" way. Coral is a "Jolly phonics" expert who is based in Segovia Spain. I saw her give a presentation at TESOL Spain and was amazed at the results of her phonics teaching with YLs. 

Thank you Coral for taking the time to share with us.

My adventure teaching "Jolly Phonics" started back in the year 2005, in Segovia, in the Ministry of Education/ British Council Bilingual Programme, where I worked for 11 years.

I describe myself as a normal classroom teacher who was amazed by the results of using Jolly Phonics with very young students, 3 to 5 years of age.

I simply started teaching sounds and blending and slowy I could observe how my students were able to read simple words like: bed, dog, hat, run... as I presented more sounds, digraphs, "ai, oa, th, sh. I was very surprised to hear my students read words like: rain, sheep, goat, this.... in perfect English pronunciation!!!!

I was also teaching Science and Geography...developing the Integrated Curriculum from the MEC/ British Council project, so my Synthetic Phonics lessons were only 10/15 minutes per session.

Then when I finished presenting the 42 sounds I started teaching "Tricky Words" (Not fully decodable) and here is were a magical world started, Spanish children reading English books independently, which I have never read before to them, with more than 100 words.......

I soon realised that they could also write without copying!!! because they had the letter-sound correspondance interiorised.

While I was teaching Jolly Phonics the Ministry of Education in UK. had not changed their policies, so now in restrospective, I know I was ahead of my time.

I informed the managers in the project about the results and since then I have been training Spanish teachers of English, British teachers in state, private schools, I also deliver training sessions at Teachers Centres, and I have organised "Jolly Phonics, Pilot Schools" all over Spain with great help from "Jolly Learning" in UK.

I have even founded a "JOLLY CENTRE" in Segovia where more than 40 young students come to learn how to pronounce, read and write in English and at the same time I hold teacher training events once a month.

During these five years, I have trained teachers in UK, Portugal, Italy, Lebanon, Egypt and last but not least Pakistan. I have had the great pleasure to meet the most amazing teachers who are always willing to teach their students the best. For more information check

The latest news is that "SUE LLOYD" will be training in SEGOVIA on November 20th, if anyone wishes to attend please check


 You might be intersted in:

Jason Renshaw Free Phonics Worksheets

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Two For the Price of One

My boyfriend is the kind of guy who comes home laden with toilet rolls or tuna fish because it was on offer. The famous slogan “Two for One” never fails with him. Tomorrow is my first day at a new secondary school and I’m going to be doing of a bit of “TEFL Two for One” namely CLIL. For those of you who may not know, CLIL stands for Content and language Integrated Learning. It’s a mouthful true, basically it means teaching a subject or part of a subject in a foreign language. At this point you may be wondering WHY? and that’s a good question. In theory it’s supposed to be a way of improving students’ competence in English without giving more timetable time to English. So we take an hour of maths and teach it English. I guess it’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul so to speak.

I like a challenge so I’m looking forward to maths, biology, music and technology in English. I’ve been studying musical notes and I can just about tell you what a staff, a whole note and a rest are, but although I’m enthusiastic I can’t help wondering if the aim is to improve students' English, is this the best way?

The jury is out on CLIL, only time will tell ,but until then I’m going to do my maths homework before class.

Are you CLILing? Or is it CLILing you?

Help Secondary School Exchange Wanted

Today a lovely teacher called Ana approached me saying that she is having difficulty finding a school to do some kind of exchange programme with. She is an English teacher in a secondary school here in Spain and she wants to do some kind of skype or messenger or e-mail exchange project this year with her students. I told her that I would ask out here in blog world and see if anyone could help...... Can anyone help? Is anyone interested?


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Higher or Lower? (Revison of Numbers for Children)

Yesterday, I played a game in class to practice numbers from 1-100. It’s an old favourite of mine. I played the game with a group of ten year olds. I can’t say that I invented it because I didn’t but I don’t remember where I found it either. It’s a simple way of revising numbers.

1. Write 1-100 on the board.
2. Draw an arrow pointing upwards and write higher next to it.
3. Drill the pronunciation of higher.
4. Draw an arrow pointing downwards and write lower next to it.
5. Drill pronunciation of lower.
6. Tell the children that you’re thinking of a number between 1- 100.
7. Write the number secretly on a piece of paper.
8. Ask for a volunteer to start.
9. The volunteer says the first number and you respond by saying higher or lower.
10. The game continues until the children guess the number correctly.

I like playing this game to revise numbers because it involves slightly higher order thinking skills than BINGO! It's not always easy for children of primary age to work out higher and lower values so this game helps with mathematical competence as well.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Vocabulary Revision (High Levels)

I saw this activity at a CLIL training session the other day and really liked it, so I thought that I’d share it with you. Although it was demonstrated in a CLIL setting it is perfectly doable in non-CLIL classes. Imagine you are at the end of a unit about travel.

1. Take 40 or so words that you want to revise.
2. Write a definition for about 20. (1. Where you stand and wait for your train –PLATFORM see image)
3. Give out a sheet of paper with the words on.
4. Put the class into groups.
5. Let each group read through the words.
6. Teacher reads out definitions and students guess the word.
7. Only give each group 30 seconds then change group.
8. Do a couple of rounds.

The timed element makes it fun. It’s really simple but effective! Many thanks to Trevor who shared this with us.

Sunday, 26 September 2010


If I were a mother and my blog were my ‘baby’ I would be guilty of severe neglect. I‘ve lost my ‘mo-jo’ or I didn’t have it in the first place! After a busy period in May and June, I died a death in July, August and September. I really hoped to get back into blogging in September but it just hasn’t happened. Now I’ve finished with some cat neutering action and finally sorted out my timetable, I’m going to make more of an effort to write a few posts and keep up with all the great ELT blogs out there. How on earth do Karenne Sylvester, Alex Case and Jason Renshaw do it?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Teaching the Thickie Group

No matter what names you give your groups, children are not stupid they are in fact quick at realising they have been labelled or assessed by the teacher. Jayne Moon in Children Learning English.

I inherited a group of such kids this year. The thickie group. Now of course I didn't label them, (well not aloud ) it was their peers who did this. We all know that kids can be extremely mean. I inherited my little group from the English 'specialist'. For those of you who don't know, I work as a language assistant in a state primary school alongside non-NEST teachers of English.

I was asked to take my group around early springtime when I suspect the teacher couldn't take much more. The children came from a large class of about 26 10-11 year olds. A 'problem' class with quite a few kids uninterested in school, underachieving and from difficult homes. To be honest I often wished I could get out of going to their class and did. It's not very nice but it's true. In general I left the class frustrated and pretty annoyed with certain individuals.

The individuals that really got my goat (annoyed me ) turned out to be a couple of the ones that I inherited. I actually relished the chance of getting them on their own to see if I could make a difference. It was a bit of a science experiment in the beginning. These were kids who were rude to the teacher and other students, argumentative, uncooperative, failing and only ten years old. When I was in class with them and 24 other kids I have to say that I didn't really like them (their behaviour). They really, really annoyed me and I would have been much happier if they hadn't been there. Bad huh?

I'm happy to report that after teaching them in a small group of 6 they became two of my favourite students. We achieved limited success in their marks but we made friends and they started to enjoy English, they  stopped acting out (behaving badly) in class. They started to do their homework regularly and became a pleasure to teach.

How did we do it?

1. I started out with the rules. They told me the rules and I added a couple more and then I made sure they were enforced without exceptions. They respected the rules and I never raised my voice to them. This was a minor miracle for them as most teachers spent all of the class constantly shouting their names.
2. Instead of negative attention I praised them for doing their work.
3. We had fun. We played games that got them out of their seats and used their energy.
4. We made a contract if they didn't do their homework three times in a row they were excluded from our special class.
5. I was strict when I had to be and let things go if they were of no 'real' importance.
6. I had high expectations for them and told them so.
7. We worked together as a group and we learned that we weren't The thickie group. We had so much fun that very soon other kids were asking to come with us which made us feel SO superior!

Three years ago I had no idea how difficult it can be to teach in a state school where your English class is such a mixed bag. I've always been privileged to work in private language schools where the children are assessed and grouped according to their level, where parents are involved and where behaviour is never a 'real' problem.

I'm a better teacher for having taught the thickie group and I hope they're better for being part of it too!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Summer's Over

Tomorrow is my last day of freedom. I'm back at school in the morning along with many other teachers whose summer is officially over. I have to say that I'm not feeling particularly excited  but nor am I dreading it. The first couple of weeks at school here tends to be a bit of a disorganised mess. Highlighted by the fact that I don't actually know where I'll be teaching this year.

I had high hopes for my summer, some of which I've achieved and others not. I didn't manage to renovate the kitchen cabinet, or re-grout the patio tiles nor find endless resources for class on the net. I did however, manage to go to the beach, see some of the world windsurfing championship, have a few barbecues, take a few long siestas, walk the dogs and re-paint the garden walls. I worked enough to survive the summer (along with a hefty tax rebate) and I visited my parents in France.

Not bad I suppose. All in all it was a good summer free from the normal panic about finances and such things. Now I'm back and have endless things to do. I've joined the gym and I've decided to teach myself French so that should give me something to do in between classes.

Are YOU ready?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Summer's Cool or Summer School

My TEFL career (if it can be called that) started 13 years ago in Cambridge on one of the hundreds of summer school programmes that run each year in the UK. I taught (if you can call it that) on a residential summer school programme for the school that had trained me on my CELTA course. My summer school motto became “what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger”. Now, don’t get me wrong I love summer school. I love the atmosphere, the kids, being back in the UK for the summer and meeting other teachers from all over the world but it’s not for the weak or easily scared.

Summer is here which means that many teachers are three weeks or so into their summer holidays but many teachers are three weeks into summer school and to them I say “If you can survive summer school everything else is like a walk in the park”. Imagine 15 teaching hours a week along with breakfast duty, lunch duty, afternoon activities, evening activities, weekend excursions, bed time duty and lights out. Oh I forgot lesson planning! All in a days’ work for a residential summer school teacher. I once had a starter pack that actually said we don’t like whingers! There are loads of great posts over at The TEFL Tradesman about Summer school  slavery. There is one that outlines some interesting legal points about your rights as a summer school teacher which had me in fits of laughter. If I had been paid what I should have been paid I would be RICH! I could have retired years ago.

Summer school is physically and mentally quite hard work but it's also great fun. You really get to know the kids you teach. You get to spend time with them outside of the classroom. You get to do all sorts of fun things with them from rollerblading to dancing at the weekly school disco. I love this part of summer school and to be honest many other things. It may not be the best way to learn English but it is a great experience for the children. It's a privilidge and I for one have spent many a summer working like a dog but have reaped the rewards!

So to all of those who are teaching at summer school , to those of us who are teaching with a reduced timetable and to those lucky teachers who have paid holidays I say ENJOY!

Monday, 12 July 2010

The New One to One

Sitting in the staffroom around springtime after another difficult day at the mill, I overheard some of the teachers talking about laptops and students. This got my interest and without further ado they told me about a new project. Both of the primary schools I work in are taking part in a programme called Escuela 2.0 which means that all of the children in the 5th year will be given a laptop to use for the school year.

Now, I have to admit that my initial reaction was disbelief then laughter perhaps they’d caught me on one of those days because I thought it was possibly the biggest laugh of the school year. Imagine the situation; I work in two very different centres. One is a quiet rural school where many of the children’s’ parents are unemployed; the teacher is over 60 (and let’s says not the most up-to-date). The other school well it’s the kind of school where the children often turn up to school without bringing a pencil to class and some of their parents still haven’t bought the required books by the third term.

Okay I’m not particularly proud of my reaction but there’s no point saying that I jumped and shouted hallelujah what a brilliant idea. My initial reaction was followed by the following thoughts:

• Surely the money could be better spent on basic things like more tables and chairs or resources such as books.
• How on earth are you going to teach with a class of 25 kids stuck with their heads stuck in a laptop?
• Who on earth is going to teach them in this new way?
• Who on earth is going to train the teachers in these new techniques?
• How on earth are we going to trust these kids to take home a laptop and make sure they bring it back the next day in tact?
• Apart from the ‘novelty’ factor why on earth would anyone think that they were going to learn more effectively stuck in front of a screen and not interacting with their classmates?

The list went on and on I found myself taking part in staffroom discussions about the senselessness of those in charge with their crazy ideas.

Then one day something happened that started to change my mind. I came to school (the quiet rural one) and the children were all excited. At the door to the English classroom they stop and ask each other how they are. It’s not the typical “How are you?” with the “I’m fine thank you” response. The teacher this year has taught them all sorts of creative variants like “I’m tired” “I’m thirsty” and “I’m very hot”. As they filed in they were all happy, or very happy or very, very happy.

As the last student went in, I asked her why she was very, very happy and she told me that their new computers had arrived. Okay one point to the laptops. The second thing that made me think was towards the end of June I walked past one of the classes and there were rows of kids tapping away at their laptops. You should have seen their faces they were working on different subjects and they were definitely “on task”. There was no doodling, staring out of the window or playing with their water bottles.

These laptops were a definite pull. The term finished in June and so their new laptops have been un-packed and used but only superficially. Now I have to say that although my initial reaction was less than positive, I’m looking forward to seeing how these laptops are going to be utilized to help enhance our children 's learning and I’m looking forward to thinking of ways that we can use them in our English lessons.

Anyone else in the same situation? Any thoughts and ideas?

Friday, 9 July 2010

Multiple Me (s)

I bumped into a colleague yesterday. She asked me how my summer was going and, if I had many classes. She then asked me if I had a lot of kids. I said no. She was a bit surprised. You see, I think I’ve been pigeon-holed as someone who teaches kids. Now, it may be true that the majority of my time is taken up with primary age students, but I also teach secondary school children, adults and my teaching peers. I’m not ‘just’ a teacher of young learners. I have, what I’ve termed ‘multiple me(s)’

Let me try and explain. The ‘me’ that teaches infants, the one that sings and jumps around the class like an elephant, is not the ‘me’ that teaches business English. The ‘me’ that is hip and cool teaching teens, is not the ‘me’ that leads teacher training workshops. My approach changes with the students in front of me.

I sometimes find that I’m displaying multiple mannerisms, attitudes and beliefs in my teaching, TEFL is a roller coaster ride which fortunately finds us teaching all sorts of people and all sorts of English.That’s one of the things that I love about it!

Long live variety, it is as they say The Spice of Life.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Former Students

This year has been my year to bump into former students. I live on an island so we’re kind of trapped but weeks, even months can go by where I don’t bump into former students. This year I’ve bumped into quite a few of them in shops, schools and in the street. It’s been a strange experience. Strange because it brings mixed emotions. It’s lovely to see my former students again and even better when they recognize and remember you but it's making me feel old.

I felt awash with a warm buzzing feeling of happiness knowing that they remembered me (well most of them) and that some of them were still studying English and doing well. It was amazing to see them all grown up or on their way. 

I started to think about the influence we have on our students. I may have only taught them for two hours a week but how did they remember me? Did they remember me fondly? Did they feel good when they thought back to English lessons with me? And why didn’t they remember me? 

This isn’t an exercise in ego. It made me think back to my schools days, my university days, my CELTA days and my Dip days. I started to think of my old teachers. The ones I remember fondly are the ones that were kind to me and made me feel good. I’ve had many great teachers, teachers who undoubtedly knew their stuff but, the ones that I remember most are the ones that made me feel good. I want to be one of those, I hope I am but I’m going to make sure that when I’m tired, stressed and feeling generally like crap that I remember this:

Fantastically planned lessons, wonderfully appropriate content, amazing technology tools, great course books and great results all seem to fade in comparison to how you make your students feel.

"They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel." - Not sure who said this but David Warr says Maya Angelou!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Do you remember your green cross code?

I saw this on the PLN lounge and have been dying to try it so here's my excuse.

In the UK in the 1970s there was a road safety campaign called the green cross code it was used to teach children the basics of crossing a road. The four stages were stop, look, listen and think.

I think that the end of the school year is the perfect time to stop, look, listen and think about the year behind us. The summer holiday gives many teachers a well-earned break from teaching or at least a lighter workload which means that we can stop or slow down.

After stopping or at least slowing down it's time to LOOK back at our teaching year critically to see what we liked and what we didn't like about our year. By doing this we can see how we can improve our teaching practice.

The next step is to listen to ourselves and other voices of fellow teachers, colleagues and our PLNs to see where we can go from here and possibly where we can make changes and improvements along the way.

The final step is to think. Think about what we did last year and what we are going to do in the new school year ahead of us. For me personally reflection has been a great help in my teaching life. I spend my school year rushing around from class to class and never seem to have the time to think about what I'm doing and why but the summer is the perfect time for me to do a bit of thinking and reflecting. If you have the time and the inclination why not try the 'green cross code' of reflection.

What have you learnt this year?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Pimp My Photo

School is out and I've set myself my summer homework so , as I was browsing old posts last night I stumbled on this 'gem' on  Janet's blog

I love it and it has great potential for the classroom. It's a website that lets you upload an image of your choice and make a magazine cover from it. Now many of you will have seen it but for those of you haven't  here it is!

Imagine the fun children and teens could have making up stories to go with the covers.

After 12 years of being just a 'girlfriend' Leahn's long time partner has shocked the whole world by proposing on one knee with a large diamond ring. Despite offering her a large diamond ring and fearing that she may be left alone with a large brood of animals, Leahn has chosen to decline the offer and therefore will never join the exclusive 'Brides' club'.

What fun! MagMyPic

Friday, 25 June 2010

One 2 One Burnout

I’ve been teaching one-to-one classes for about four years now .I suppose at some point most teachers will find themselves in a situation where they may have to teach one-to-one, so I thought that I’d share my experiences of life as a one-to-one teacher here with you. 

In the beginning when I started working as a freelancer, I wanted to fill my timetable so, I was quite happy to get the work which meant that I’d be able to pay the rent and feed the cats and dogs. At the time I thought that I’d take on the students and reap the financial rewards until they got bored and gave up.

I have to say that the dropout rate wasn’t quite what I expected. Four years on, I still have my first one-to-one student. You could see this in one of several ways. A) I’m so good that he just doesn’t want to leave me B) he hasn’t improved and so he’s still with me or C) he has no other possibilities or options. 

I teach an upper-intermediate doctor, a low pre- intermediate lab technician, a fourteen year old teenage girl who is in secondary school, a twelve year old secondary school student  an11 year old boy and a nine year old girl. It’s quite a variety. Now the reason that I wanted to write about one-to-one is that I’ve been feeling at a bit of a loss about what to do in classes for the past couple of months. I seem to have caught one-to-one burnout. I'm just not inspired.

What I like about teaching one-to-one

• You can tailor the classes directly to the needs, wants and likes of your student.
• You can give 100% of your attention to your student.
• You develop a really close relationship with your student.
• You don’t have as many exams or as much homework  to correct.
• You don’t have to deal with mixed abilities or fast finishers.
• You don’t have as many factors to deal with in terms of classroom management.
• Students tend to think that they’re making more progress.
• You don’t need to photocopy as much.
• It doesn’t involve lots of cutting and sticking.

Drawbacks of teaching one-to-one

• It’s a very intense situation, 60 minutes of talking can be quite like therapy!
• It’s really limited in many ways as the dynamic is teacher – student / student –
teacher, no pair work, no group work.
• It’s really uncomfortable if either of you are having a bad day. There’s nowhere to hide.
• It often calls for the teacher to give their opinions on issues which can cause disagreement.
• It can become like a crutch for students who rely on their personal teacher.
• It can get boring or stale as you can’t rely on the group dynamic.
• There just aren’t the opportunities to share thoughts and opinions with other people like there are in groups.

My Problems

• I’ve been teaching my one-to-ones for between two and four years and I’ve just run out of steam. I’m in a rut.
• I think that they’d probably be better off in a group setting but they are still clinging to me.

Okay over to my PLN for some advice. Can anyone help? Any suggestions? Teaching ideas and suggestions for one-to-one classes please!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

How to get children and dogs to respect you? Part Two

After a shaky start with my theory about the similarities between dogs and children, I seem to be on a roll. I’ve started to take note of my interaction with Molly, Bruno, Joe and Maya. Action research in my case has taken on new meaning as it has extended from the classroom to my home. Poor dogs ! So, here are some of my latest thoughts about the similarities and differences between canines, kiddies and teens and how we can get a little RESPECT at home and in the classroom.
Before I start I’d like to say a couple of things. Firstly, I’m not saying that dogs are children or that children are dogs. I have too much respect for both species for that. Secondly, a bit about the differences between ‘fear’ and ‘respect’, as a dog owner and a teacher of children I’m after ‘respect’ not fear. As educators I’m sure that we agree that respect is healthy and positive whilst fear is negative and destructive right?

Okay so we know what we want but how do we go about getting it?

1. Calm assertive behavior- Body language and tone of voice are the key here. Often teachers and dog owners say one thing but their tone of voice or body language is saying something else. Children and dogs are highly receptive to energy and can pick up nervousness, hesitancy, anger, sadness and a whole range of other emotions. They say that dogs know if you like them. The same can be said for children. It is really important to spend time bonding with both. Children and dogs pick up on whether you like them or not. Dogs don’t understand the words but they understand the body language and tone of voice. So remember to say kind words and send kind body signals too. Teachers faced with disruptive and difficult classes often give off negative energy or energy than says they’ve given up. Children pick up on this and feed off it. We have to stay CALM at all costs. Shouting at children and losing control can lead to mimicking behavior. You raise your voice and children and dogs will often raise their respective voices. Janet (no surname required) had anexperience of this with her dog Sofia recently. Janet said “Sit” and her canine companion Sofia ignored her. Janet shouted "Sit" and Sofia growled her own thoughts on the matter. If you raise the energy, dominant children and dogs may raise theirs too. This is ok, if the energy is positive but you shout and they shout and sooner or later shouting becomes the norm.

2. Reward good behaviour – I will always remember Carol Read saying catch them being good. Well this really is good advice. Positive reinforcement works really well with dogs and children. I train my dogs with a clicker and treats or treats alone. Once the dogs behave in the way that I want, I slowly reduce the amount of treats until they get no treats or occasional treats for good behavior. I guess the same can be done for children. Model the behavior you want and then reward the behaviour with praise, kind words or stickers or all of the above. Perhaps not clicker training with kiddies!
3. Attention –It’s really important to make sure that you have your dogs’ attention before you give a command. Sounds obvious right? How many times have you seen a teacher giving instructions to a class where half of them are not listening and the other half are fiddling with pencils, pencil cases, water bottles etc. The golden rule applies here make sure that you have silence and attention from the class before you give instructions. Even experienced teachers can find themselves rushing instruction giving which results in confusion and half the class asking what they have to do. I’ve seen a lot of teachers do this and I’ve done it myself. 

4. Be prepared – Children can see if you’ve planned your class and put effort into it. A well prepared teacher is a great example and shows children that you respect them. If you’ve prepared your class and gone out of your way to find interesting and motivating materials you students will see that and, that shows them that you respect them and your job. At this point you’re saying of course but I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve been to in the past three years where teachers have opened the course book and asked the children what page they’re on or have prepared no material and have tried to wing it. It takes a great deal of experience, resourcefulness and bravery to walk into a class of 26 eleven year olds with nothing prepared. Or maybe it’s shear madness.

5. Establish or negotiate rules and then stick to them – I have to say that whilst I don’t seem to have any real problems sticking to classroom rules, at home it’s a different matter. My dogs have re-negotiated the sofa rule for example. I set the rule NO sofa. My partner S failed to enforce the rule. The dogs got mixed signals and so now we have something in between. Dogs get on the sofa and then off when they are told. This basically equals no rule. I’ve seen similar things happen in classes with children who follow the rules for one teacher and then flaunt the rules for another. Why have rules if they’re not going to be enforced?

I’ve ranted on about dogs and children enough for one night. Time to let them out before I go to bed.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Commanding Respect

Today I was talking to a colleague about respect . We were talking about how certain teachers command immediate silence when they walk into a room whilst others have to ask for silence and some have to beg for it and never get it! Now I'm more of the second type, I do not command immediate silence when I enter a room but I can get it with minimum fuss. 

The more I've thought about this over the past year or so the more I've compared it to dog training. Okay, I don't mean to offend the dogs but children and dogs have many things in common. Like dogs children react well to calm assertiveness. They need a pack leader and feel safe and secure when they have rules and routines.

At this point you may think I'm barking mad but think about it for a minute. They say that dogs can smell fear. Well, I think the same can be said for children. Children will test you and push you to your limits and past them if you allow them to. Children need rules and routines to feel safe and secure. They may not like the rules and routines but enforcement of rules and routines makes everyone know where they stand. When you don't enforce the rules everything gets confused and no-one knows where they stand.

Have you ever seen one of those mums at the check out counter with the child screaming for some sweets ? Okay let's see. Child screams and the mum says no and the  child screams some more and then the mum says no and the child screams some more and then the child screams some more and then, the mum says YES. Well, this reminds me of dog training. Imagine the situation.Leahn and Molly (Molly being the canine part of the team). Leahn says"Sit" and raises her finger in that Barbara Woodhouse way. Molly looks around and sniffs the air. Leahn says "Sit" again. Dog trainer comes over takes Molly from her position and walks on. Dog trainer says"sit" and Molly sits. Done. It's all in the voice and the body language she tells me.

Molly and Dog trainer one point Leahn zero.

Children and Dogs have more in common than you think. Both need:

  • Calm assertive leaders
  • Rules and routines
  • Consistency
  • Love 
  • Fun and entertainment
  • Toys and affection

A failure to meet these standards may result in a shift in the balance of power. Please see picture.

Molly, Bruno and Little Joe have taken over the sofa and I find myself sitting on the dog bed. Where, oh where have I gone wrong?