Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Multicultural and Ironic Classroom- ignore or explore???

IThe iconic 'Tank Man' image

Last Wednesday ( 3rd June) my multicultural class enjoyed some Arabic coffee and home made sweets, kindly provided by some of my students. As it was a relaxing time, we discussed the topic of the lesson - censorship/freedom of speech/voicing your opinion. I casually mentioned that today was the anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

I have four new students in the class from China. I wanted them to participate and add their voice to a very strong Arabic orientated class....I thought this was an opportunity to contribute to class and add their thoughts to a topic related to their lives ...........

Tiananmen square is  a large city square in the centre of Beijing, named after the Tiananmen Gate - Gate of heavenly peace  -  Peace ? I asked....? How can peace be mentioned after what happened in 1989?? When may be thousands of civilians lost their lives for a cause they believed??

The answer was ...let's enjoy our coffee and take class photos.....

What happened in my class ? We continued to drink the Arabic coffee and eat the sweets, my Chinese students said they didn't know what I was referring to , they had no idea what had happened in 1989 as most of them were not born at the time.
' Did your parents or school not mention the incident '  I asked. No...let's enjoy the coffee they replied .

Take note of this blog : .

Later that day. I had a private lesson with a mature Chinese student. We have a good relationship and I decided to approach the topic. I explained what  had happened today and that I was shocked that most of the Chinese students seemed to have no idea about the events of 25 years ago. If this was true, I felt I had a moral  obligation to tell these SS  what had happened as we were now in the UK and we could discuss such matters.

Jing told me she knew something had happened that day but as she did not live in Beijing, she was not concerned! She had heard rumours regarding the day but no one knew the truth. She didn't question the truth as her family were not involved.She repeatedly used the word 'sensitive' as if it was a new piece of vocabulary she had learnt or an indicator to tell me 'not to ask more questions'.....

I am writing this on my blog to ask my fellow teachers...was I wrong in approaching and discussing such a 'sensitive' topic and should I have exploited it more .... should we encourage our International students to discuss topics 'censored' in their own countries??

Jing has a 14 year old son who studies in an International School in the UK. I asked her what she would say to her son if this topic had been discussed at school today. She replied that she would ignore it and tell him to listen to his school teachers.....

So,when it comes to multicultural classes we encourage iconic discussions or ironic - ignore or explore????

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The IATEFL classroom

After years of watching the IATEFL conference on-line, I was so excited to be able to attend in person this year ! Sad as it may sound to some of my colleagues! 

I finally met up with so many of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) and was able to share, reflect and learn with them. Plus. it was an opportunity to thank so many of my 'virtual staffroom' colleagues for their support during my DELTA and move to the UK.

I thought it would be fitting to now share some ideas and links I noted down whilst I was at the conference, especially for my Greek friends who I know find it difficult  to go to the UK for such conferences due to expense, lack of support from their institutions and time to attend. I attended so many different talks, presentations, plenaries and so on but here are the ones which were not recorded and I found useful ! 

Some of the sessions were recorded on 

Socially,  I do admit that I was a total 'groupie' and followed a few big names around on the dance floor and took a lot of photos !!!

So, moving onto the talks, presentations and workshops....

Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener presented two work shops under the umbrella of 'Demand High '.

 Adrain Underhill 'Demand High and Lost Learning' classroom

Mainly discussing recent teaching methods and if they push our ss to their learning limits and how do we or they know if they are at that limit. 

Underhill and Scrivener have devised a demand – high meme ( an idea or style that moves from one culture to another )

This idea is along the lines of:

  • Are our learners capable of more, much more?
  • Have the tasks and techniques we use in class become rituals and ends in themselves?
  • How can we stop “covering material” and start focusing on the potential for deep learning?
  • What small tweaks and adjustments can we make to shift the whole focus of our teaching towards getting that engine of learning going?


 More information can be found on their blog @

Underhill says we sometimes focus on the material rather than focusing on the potential for deep learning – really?? His main points were:
  • Take the opportunity to use any activity to challenge each student individually    to their learning ‘edge’.
  • Allow the task to do the teaching.
  • Think about learning ‘moves’ – not  what the ss have to do but what do they do with it??!!
  • If we don’t ‘see’ the learning then we don’t see how it gets lost.
  • Do not extinguish the answer – ask the ss for answer and rather than say yes, well done so and so – ask other ss if they agree or not/ what are your thoughts on that. The question stays ‘alive’ and offers multiple challenges around the class.
  • IT IS A PING PONG EFFECT! T pings and then ss pong pong pong pong – the T challenges the answer or the pronunciation or the grammar or stress etc but not all about T –ss but more ping pong pong pong – you’d get if you were there!
  • Challenge multiple intelligences -  sound the words/visualise the words/write them down/how many words are there/count and memorise/change the word order/blank out words/recall the sentence/inner word bench for pronunciation/say it faster or slower/connected speech features/how many times does  as specific sound occur.
  • Make learning visible – Gattegno’s science of education – learning moves and limitless powers of self-learning.E.g.  Buy a pair of shoes – aware of feet /comfortable/size/suitable/price etc
  Check it out here - Some practical ideas for the classroom and    they did make me reflect a little on my classroom practices:

  •  Spending the last five minutes of your lesson going over what the students learnt that day and what they still don’t understand.  Then using these notes to plan your next lesson.

  • Handing out cards with T for true on one side and F for false on the other so the teacher can quickly see the class consensus in T/F activities and focus on problem areas only.

  • Not ‘rubberstamping’ answers with empty ego-stroking, e.g. “That’s right, very good            Sally”.  Instead taking the opportunity to ask the other students: “Is Sally right?”; “What did you write?” and if necessary, “Why do you think your answer is different?”

  • Giving students a check-list to use when assessing their peers in pair work to make them more effective ‘teachers’ and therefore learners.

  • When teaching pronunciation, getting students to repeat words faster, louder etc. thus revitalising dry old drilling and improving memory retention at the same time.

 Demand High to bring a grammar lesson alive  classroom - Jim Scrivener

The workshop was part of the demand high series with Underhill. Based on Krashen’s I + 1 principle.

Teaching grammar, sometimes means we ignore the inner voices telling us we have to communicate the whole time and can actually use ‘traditional’ exercises and drills, as ss seem to want them, need them and learn from them.

This workshop was focused on how to engage the ss and challenge them – aim for ‘upgrade’ with some useful ideas of how to adapt the CB and personalise it.

One for the exercise, two for the learning, three in English – go, cat, go” Scrivener.

Check out the recording if you want to know more! 

The EAP classroom

I attended a few sessions for Academic language which covered student support, academic writing, use of dictionaries, corpus, developing and sharing practices and generally how we can enhance the ss experience and guide them.

Here are a few useful links and pieces of advice that I picked up:

From James Beddington (University of Winchester) on student support and how we should re-consider the support we give to our International students and the necessity to for support after pre-sessional courses through drop-in sessions, face to face chats, web sources and the use of Moodle/FB/Twitter etc. For an interesting read, check out:

Diana Lea  (OUP) mentioned Corpus linguistics which was a big feature at the conference in all areas. This process of collecting 'useful' vocabulary was mentioned in most EAP workshops. 

Dictionaries often mark words as ‘academic’ but rarely show how to use them in context but this talk mentioned:

  •  Using appropriate language
  •  Collocations and synonyms
  •  Planning and structuring an assignment
  •  Presenting an argument
  •  Using sources effectively

Academic language is specialist/diverse/abstract/precise/nuanced/dense and has variables across a range of areas so this dictionary is supposed to be based on a huge corpus – the Academic English Oxford Corpus which we cannot check out unless we buy the dictionary!

This corpus is supposed to be denser and less abstract and have lots of examples of language in context.

All the examples are corpus based – humanities/life science etc…
The dictionary also has a writing tutor – what else could we ask for!!! It has a CD rom with different genres – essay/dissertation etc.

At the end of the day this was a convincing talk as it was based on research and a mega corpus plus added some good examples for extracts and concordance. E.g. the word ‘introduce’ – introduce a bias or an error….

 Jennifer MacDonald discussed 'getting discipline specific in the general EAP classroom. Discussions led to the use of genre/conventions and specialist vocabulary....the use of 'noticing' activites and ss could do a 'scavenger hunt' on their first day - skim their handbooks for information ! Some excellent links to the amazing resources available at Warwick University.

The Pronunciation Classroom 'Pronouncing Rhythm and Stress' Mark Hancock

As Hancock is one of my favourite sources for pronunciation activities I had to attend his workshop.

Focusing on rhythm and sentence stress to create meaning at the suprasegmental level, his workshop covered a simple pedagogical model of these areas plus excellent activities, worksheets, drills, stress gym, and more to help scaffold ss through chants etc until they reach the targeted pronunciation feature. Check out his site for the activities and download the PPT slides...

The IELTS classroom Lewis Richards ' IELTS Task 1 - How to Make it Interesting '

This brilliant workshop focused on the most boring task of all - describing a pie chart or graph and analysing the information....

He made this task more interesting by relating to the ss interests. It became more of a noticing task, had room for creativity and cognitively-challenging and was practical! 

A few ideas:

  • The subject matter can be dry, there is no motivation or engagement for the ss. It is mechanical and repetitive and ss cannot relate to the topic. E.g. How much pork/beef/chicken/lamb was consumed in the UK in year who cares…
  • Firstly. Get ss to rank the topic 1-5… boring to interesting…Get ss to make their own graph – what do they eat?Change the topic! Use statistics relevant to the class and get then to describe them – same language but interesting to ss.Use materials from: link also has videos which can be used in class to help ss ‘notice’ the language used for presentations and interpretation of graphs etc. The speech is fast but you can click on the transcripts – authentic stuff!Create mental images/inner voice thoughts/senses/connection with real life/personal interpretations.Use this data to discuss why numbers dropped/increased etc. – challenge ss to a true/false quiz.
  • Use model answers creatively and use a bad one!
  • Devise noticing tasks and add genre/discourse tasks.
  • Add cognitive tasks – how many people were in the survey/the purpose of it?
  • Circle linking devices- the purpose of them and add grammar- draw graphs to help notice the grammar points
  • Noticing (Bolitho with Thornbury 2003)
  • I’ll read my graph to you – you draw it!
  • T reads the model answer and ss draw it!
  • Make your own listening materials – listen and write down passives/linking devices

Lewis Richards also has an informative FB page for ss…://

The classroom with SS with Learning Differences

 A classroom close to my heart. I intend to research the area of learning differences and International students.There was only one workshop related to this area throughout the 5 days...sad but true.. 

The dyslexia for Learners and Teachers workshop was an excellent introduction to the topic and highlighted how it feels to be dyslexic and study in l2. The research is mainly being conducted at Lancaster University and the following link is well worth a look:  It is a task based approach to reflecting on dyslexia and our SS.

The Digital Classroom Marisa Constantindes 'From Curation to Creation

As my DELTA tutor in Athens, Marisa is responsible for me even writing a blog ! She always encouraged us to create a PLN and be active on-line and use different digital assets in our classrooms. This was a great presentation on how to organise all these ideas and assets ! How to......

  • Diigo – bookmark by groups/follow people by tags.EAP..then tag useful blogs etc.
  • Aplanet – – teachers’ networks.
  • You tube – group favourite videos.
  • – collect and save content but only on 5 boards.
  • Pinterest – no limit of boards and able to follow others and share.
  • Lessonpaths – help to create and share lesson ideas – collaborate with other teachers
  • Using Blooms Taxonomy – HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills to create/evaluate/apply.
  • Seanbanville lessons for reading challenges.

The  Observed Classroom Cecila Lemos 'Making Observations a Teacher's Best Friend'

Cecilia was motivated by Penny Ur’s IATEFL presentation in 2013- see blog notes here:

Some good points also here:

The main problems were regarding Summative observations - fear/pressure/the threat of evaluation and the use of formative observations as a tool for professional development. Cecilia's main points were:

  •  Summative Observations by DOS/Managers need to discuss the observation beforehand and establish goals of the teacher.
  • More than one observation should be carried out – make the first one a video and discuss class dynamics.
  • A great technique taken from the DELTA and one I totally agree with is self- reflection. T sits and writes down notes ASAP after the lesson and then discusses with DOS.
  • Buffet table approach to observations – write down points that the  T wants to be observed on.
  • Do not cover everything – just 3 or 4 points.
  • Formative observations are to develop – could be peer but teachers are not always honest with each other as colleagues.
  • Peer observations should be to develop the observer not the observed!
  • Create a ladder of feedback : Clarify – elaborate/explain

                                                              Value – strong/good points/innovative
                                                              Concerns – worried about..
                                                              Suggest and thank ! – could do..thank for enhancing                                                                                                                              teaching!

  • Define criteria and statements check list – mark it together.

ü       For more ideas see Cecilia’s blog:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

TEFL experiences has relocated and changed the experience !

A few life changes have meant that I haven't written on my blog for a long time. This was wrong because I should have been sharing with my friends and colleagues these changes as life passed by....because they were all part of an experience - a TEFL experience. However, it was a very personal experience and one where I had to consider my family before my professional life.

So, to cut a long story short.I relocated to Leicester from my beloved Greece last July. My children arrived in August and started  a new life in England. We had a few teething problems with schools, further education and lack of friends but we are now enjoying our new life and the experience of living in a country which promotes opportunities, multiculturalism, diversity and culture as an every day occurrence.

As for my classroom, it has changed!

I miss my Young Learners and teens and now appreciate the feedback from my students on Intensive General English Courses, moving onto Academic courses and English for Aviation....military personnel from Algeria with different aims and needs to those students who I taught in Greece!

I realise now, as a dedicated teacher, you can always adapt to your students' needs. It doesn't matter what classroom you walk into, as long as you are prepared and think about those students' needs, you can adapt and deliver.

Your reality becomes who you are teaching the next day and as time passes you adapt to that environment.

The TEFLexperience has really 'hit home' as I realise I can research, adapt and accommodate to my students' needs to what ever is expected of me. The fact I have an incredible PLN  to support me, plus the opportunity to attend conferences, like IATEFL for the first time has been an incredible learning experience and one that I can share with my students and hopefully enhance their classroom experiences.

I remember YLs in Greece and how they would bring me coloured pictures with stickers addressed to 'Miss Sharon..I love you...' Now I have tutorials with students from Iraq who tell me about their difficulties trying to bring their loved ones to another country or Chinese students who are struggling with the fact they didn't 'fit in' with their local system so their parents sent them abroad, pilots that are the crème de la crème in their own country but are aliens to a new environment. what it is all about! I wrote in my last blog about collaborating with a teacher I 'd never met- Sophia Mavradaki - we have now met at Greece TESOL and actually shared a few evenings reflecting over a few wines at IATEFL and became firm friends!

These few ramblings are what it is to be a TEFL teacher these days...

We move on, we experience, we learn and we share....