Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's new in my life

I haven't written in a while and although I have plenty of time and plenty of thoughts to write about I feel this holds me back. There is a transition I haven't really announced (at least in a blogging world) and it feels strange to continue writing without acknowledging the change. In the end of May I moved to California, US to be with my family.

So it's been already 2 months and I finally started feeling more or less settled. So a quick update on what I've been up to:

  • Took up volunteering at a local IRC - an organisation that helps refugees from all over the world to settle in the states. I volunteer in the ESL program twice week and I have a small group of students from the Middle East (and recently one person from Ukraine). That's a development I'm really happy about since my biggest concern coming here was my job and continuing teaching and I was and still am worried about job opportunities for me here (hello NNESTs!). But the important thing is that for now I can at least continue teaching which feels great. It is also my first experience teaching without knowing students' L1! I'll definitely write more about that.

  • Continuing my skype lessons. I started working with italki website and I managed to find a few students through it, which is, again, a completely new experience for me. I have many more online classes than I had before so there is a big learning curve here as well. I've also been thinking more and more about developing my own thing online, which requires me to put my businesswoman hat :) I'm not sure if I'm made for it but trying it is surely fun.

mingling with the locals

  •  Signed up for CATESOL . I've never been a part of an esl organisation, but for some reason I was compelled to join California branch of TESOL. So far it is a trial membership which means I basically only get a newsletter, but I hope it will allow me to get in contact with esl teachers over here.

food is still my biggest priority

  • Exploring and discovering. It still feels a little bit like a holiday (hot weather doesn't help) and everything is fairly new to me. That's why we're trying to take advantage of all that California has to offer - food, travelling, entertainment. I don't know exactly when it'll wear out, but most of the time I have a feeling I'm on a big anthropological expedition watching people, their language and their behaviour, sorry, behavior.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Some revelations concerning quizlet ...

... or practice what you preach.

I discovered Quizlet about a year ago and, like many people, instantly realised what a great service it is. I started recommending it to all my students. Some took up on it very quickly, others were a bit hesitant. So understanding how important proper introduction is I introduced Quizlet to one of my teenage groups in the language school last September.
As I'd expected nobody jumped from their sit, shouted "Eureka!" and started typing away. So I put a word list from our unit there myself and sent a link to everyone. As our vocabulary test was coming up (we write one after each unit) the students started moving and most of them used it for their preparation. It worked (the test results were visibly better too) and the window of opportunity was opened. Next I asked my students to take turns in transferring words to Quizlet. They had to take smaller parts of the units so the work was doable. For the past 8 months my students have been working with the service. And although there were couple of hiccups along the way (somebody forgot to type in the words), overall I felt it was a successful experiment.

my little zoo

Now the funny part. I recently decided to use quizlet for my own purposes. As a NNEST I strive to perfect my English in any possible way and I decided to make my vocabulary learning more systematic. I created a folder for a current month and started putting new words there whenever I came across one. The list grew longer, but the surprise came when I started working in a "learn" mode. I sucked so much!!! There was a lesson number one for me

1) Actually study the words you add. Duuuh, I was totally under the impression that for me it is enough to put it out there and the words will magically appear in my head and stay there forever. Little did I know that rare minds work this way ;) So adding new words have to be followed by studying the words.

2) Sometimes you need to translate to your native language. This one is funny ironic I usually tell my students, especially at a higher level, to try not to translate the new words but rather understand the definition. Turns out that it doesn't always work. Yes, there are English words and phrases that don't have exact translation to Russian or the concept itself is not existent in our language. That said, there are plenty of words (usually synonyms to already familiar words) that I can only remember and understand the exact shade of the meaning only if I translate them to Russian. Some examples include "vehement", "adamant" and "livid'. I realised that your native language is your asset in learning a second language and if you need it to remember a word, don't fight it.

3) I remember the words that I heard from the video better than the word from the reading. The source of new words for me usually is Internet articles or Youtube videos. I noticed that it is easier for me to remember the word that I got from the video. The process goes like this : I see the word - I remember the video - I remember who said it - I remember the context - bam! i remember the word! Here is the example for the word "conducive" which I heard in Jemima Kirke's psa.

Not sure how I can use this discovery to help myself or my students, but I'll keep thinking ;)

4) And, yes, collocations help. I heard the idea from Leo Selivan's webinar for IATEFL and I finally got to test it. What I did is I added gapped phrases/sentences to the definitions. I found out that I manage to remember the word in almost 100% of cases. In addition, it provides me with a context the word could be used in.
definition and example for "to detract"

Probably, these ideas could be self-evident for somebody, but they weren't for me and maybe somebody will benefit from my observations. But I guess the bottom line here is for teachers to really test the apps and services you recommend to your students. Don't just glance over them and send the link, put yourself in your students' shoes and really try it. If you have some more ideas on how to get the most of Quizlet, I'll be happy to hear them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Between moving houses and preparing for a bigger move, I had not time to blog or to even read my blogroll. The other day I opened my feedly, saw 140 unread articles and shut it down. But I'm slowly going back to my routine and enjoying all the IATEFL reports and summaries. I have to also admit I haven't been preparing for the lessons as much as I did before. I mean I did sit down and opened the book. But often I just couldn't gather my thoughts, started to panic, search for the ideas in the Internet, search for any ideas in the Internet, making a cup of coffee... well you know how it goes.

The surprising thing for me was that my lessons weren't that bad. I would even say some of them were pretty good/successful. And then I remembered other times when I spent hours searching for the right material, typing, drawing, printing and then seeing bored faces of my students and feeling a great disappointment in myself. So what the hell happened here? What's the secret for a "good" lesson?

I guess it's time to define what the good lesson is. For me, it's how the students feel when they leave the class. They feel accomplished because the learnt something, found out something new and interesting, finally got to understand something difficult. They feel cheerful because the atmosphere in class was positive, maybe their pair work went well or they got fired up by the team game we played before. So that loud many-voices chirping exit tells me I did something good!

"Black pencils" eltpics by @JosetteLB

Now, why has it been happening lately more often? Well, as I said, I didn't have much prepared for each lesson. I mean I have a book but as a rule I always have to prepare something extra, think about all the twists and turns for usual exercises, invent something in order not to get them bored quickly and so on. This time when I didn't have anything special up my sleeve I had to really focus on what was happening in the class and use any chance to engage my students (I know it sounds strange, because that's what teachers are supposed to do in the class). So when I thought we could discuss the news a bit more in the beginning we did and when I thought something was not going well we stopped. And when I saw my students really struggling with topic/supporting sentences and getting frustrated with themselves I was like "Why the hell they need it right now, I'd better have my students sane and happy, then miserable and aware of how to write a "good paragraph".And I allowed myself to talk more, because I wanted to tell a personal story related to the topic and my students enjoyed it because (surprise) they like finding out about their teacher's life. We also played a game which we rarely do because I believe my students are "too old" for that. And surprise again - it went well. So I was alert and I was sensitive to what was happening in the class and flexible to make my students feel comfortable. All because I wasn't prepared enough.

What happens when you plan "well"? First of all, you're super excited about the activities you prepared and you like them so much you don't even consider changing them a bit. I go through my plan straight and steady as if I'm a solider marching in a parade. I'm so concerned with following the initial plan that I get very upset if we don't have time to do everything or something goes wrong. It can also have something to do with the fact that I'm a control freak.

I'm not saying teachers shouldn't prepare, but now I do think once in a while we have to come to a lesson under-prepared. We have to get out of the comfort zone just to spice up our lessons and test our skills against this "risky" situation. It maybe really eye-opening as it was for me, But again it can have something to do with the fact that I'm a control freak :)

Photo taken from by @JosetteLB, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Sunday, March 22, 2015

E-merging forum 5 afterthoughts

I'm finally home and rested after E-merging Forum 5 in Moscow. A week after the end of the forum I sat down to think about it again. Being registered blogger definitely changed my experience of the conference and I'm not sure in which way. On the one hand I feel like I spent most of the forum head down in my tablet trying to type fast on the elusive keyboard. In some way I even feel that the conference kind of went past me :) Although it was tough the first day, I felt upbeat and even jotted down a post in the metro in the way to the conference building. I also have a very tangible proof of my presence there -  6 (!) posts, more than I write in a usual month.
I was trying to compare emf4 and emf5, but soon stopped trying. The first time is always super-exciting and new, I remember being really inspired by the ideas and people I saw a year ago. This time around I also left inspired not so much by the ideas (many didn't seem new), but by the people, teachers who continue to create, write, present, assess and improve.The final presentations left a big smile on my face and continued humming "If you are a stunning teacher.." (search for videos in instagram with #emf5) all the way to Saint-Petersburg. I wish I had had more time and courage to talk to my fellow teachers, but it is something I'll leave for next year...

I looked through my posts again and below you can find corrected versions with added links:
Herbert Puchta "Teaching Young Learners: What's hot and what not"
Catherine Walter "Learning grammar and pronunciation: what do we know and what can we do about it?"
Rimma Chaldymbaeva "10 reasons to use smartphones and tablets at efl classes"
Anna Loseva "Flashmob in elt"
Day 3 Plenary Talks
Day 3 Discussion Groups

Check out other registered bloggers' posts:
prolific Olya Sergeeva on ELT stories
Elena Matveeva on  Language Flame blog
Natalia Almaeva on Natalia's blog
Mura Nava on EFL Notes

and an official blog + interviews with speakers on TeachingEnglish website

Thank you, British Council, for organising this wonderful event and all the teachers that made it worth visiting! Till next year!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Group Discussions Day 3 #emf5

The forum traditionally concludes with special interest group discussions and following presentations. I was looking forward to this part as last time we had a blast. This time we got into the group of around 10 teachers and started brainstorming. Our topic was technology and we were supposed to come up with a short bit of advice/idea/solution based on our experience in the forum.
We started pitching our ideas but soon the conversation focused around one particular but also quite vague idea. We continued developing it, but soon I felt it was out of our hands. I suddenly felt lost and uninspired.

Why might it have happened:
○ the group was too big
○ the topic was too wide (last year we were assigned an area)
○ the group lacked organisation
○ the group spoke their L1 which unlike English lacks advanced communication strategies (see next)
○ some participants lacked basic communication skills such as turn-taking, disagreeing and interrupting politely (!), summarizing  etc. It was especially surprising considering we are all teachers and we are supposed to TEACH them to our students (and you know, practice it)
○ critical rather than creative attitude towards a final product

No wonder spirit of some people including me sank. My colleague and a friend later noticed how amazing is the fact that so many like-minded people from all over the country can't seem to get along and do something together. I remembered how listeners at the plenaries were quick to correct non-native presenters' English.  Or loud conversations during the talk. Is there something that we call "professional deformation" in elt or is it just common (in)decency?
I enjoy this conference for the spirit of 'everything is possible' and inspiration it supplies for many months ahead. So I refuse to get upset or disappointed! :) As they say in English: every cloud has a silver lining. In fact, it inspired my friend to research the issue of teacher's behaviour and possibly present here next year!
Off to hear the presentations! So long!

#emf5 Day 3 Pleanary Talks

The last two plenary talks in the forum were devoted to technology in learning languages. They were coming from different places but, in my opinion, had ultimately the same message.

Alla Nazarenko started with a short history of distance learning in MSU. Back in 1990s the University had an idea of making their preparatory courses available to people outside Moscow. But they noticed a distinct disadvantage of this project right away : the students were ALONE in their learning from the start. The answer came in the form of imitation of a regular  classroom and the backbone of the new idea was DISCUSSIONS. Having other students interact with you,"seeing" your partner and teacher's involvement seemingly improved the situation.
On the other hand, students are not passive objects of the educational process and their
* responsibility
* motivation
* self - organization
are all crucial in every kind of learning. A good example of this principle is MOOCs which normally have a huge dropout rate. This led the teachers to the understanding that technology is just a vehicle for learning but not a cure. Alla then continued to demonstrate how their department successfully  developed a few blended and distance learning programs.

Gavin Dudeney comes from edtech background and he feels that this area has started getting a bad press in the world of elt. From his point of view, the numbers were the reasons for it. Any number - big/small/irrelevant and soon meaningless. Our obsession with numbers feeds in social networks (number of comments, friends, retweets), publishers and app developers use it to sell us a "new" book/technology/system (if 1000000+people use it, so should you).
Numbers take over our life and substitute the simplest things which sometimes are impossible to measure. Gavin's concern is that everything in the class will be assessed in the future. But can it help anyone? Sure some ways can be more EFFICIENT, but are they the BEST ways to go about making research into elt?
Gavin's answer is to turn our gaze to classrooms from all over the world where educators still teach face-to-face, use their students as a resource and use technology as a means of enhancing the learning process.

Resource to check out: edtech concerns podcast

Anna Loseva Flashmob in elt

What is #flasmobelt? Is it teachers dancing in organised groups after classes? Is it a group of students deciding on telling the teacher there was no homework last time (and the teacher going crazy)? None of that and quite the opposite- a tool that will make teacher's life a bit easier and a bit more interesting.
#flashmobelt is an online post-it notes board where teachers from around the world  can post activities they successfully tried in their classes. The ideas should be simple, almost no-prep, technology-light, so that a teacher from another class/school/city/country could read it and bring it to their classroom the same day. Participation is easy (just go to the board and type away) and the results are truly inspiring - you get to peek into a class in Korea,  Croatia, the USA or many more.

Here are two activities  Anna demonstrated:
1) Hate Love
Students get in pairs and decide who goes first. This person decides to love or hate something and prepares to talk about it for a minute. The teacher reveals the topic - strong reaction guaranteed, your class starts talking!
2) Finish the sentence in as many creative ways as you could in 1 minute. Possible beginnings and endings
When in Rome.....
Never say....
...... and she slammed the door
...... caught him by surprise.

Check out the board with activities from #emf5 - coming soon! Anna's blog for the link to the board -