Digit-all-love

wifi

Have I mentioned I’m a big fan of blended learning? I have even signed up for a course on coursera.org! Hope I will manage to finish it πŸ™‚

Anyways, I was thinking about a nice topic for my blog (I want to put up a post per week, arduous work indeed) and I’ve come up with quite a controversial issue – mobiles and smartphones in the classroom… and my amazement when I learnt that a lot of teachers actually forbid the students to use them. Now, I’m a teacher who does that only during the tests and I rather encourage my students to use their phones in the classroom on a regular basis. And teach them how to use their phones to help them learn.

You see, the generation of 14-16 year old people is called digital natives, as opposed to us, digital immigrants, people who lived without the Internet. They are claimed to feel as comfortable in the virtual world as in the real one – but I find it quite hard to agree. I think being born in a particular environment makes you a native – but doesn’t necessarily make you feel comfortable about it.

I’ve played computer games ever since I remember and find common background with some of my students – but a huge difference is, when I was their age I played far more games than they do, while now they have a far greater variety of choice! The girls usually play the Sims, boys – MMORPG, CS or Minecraft (and now GTA V, I believe), and what about many beautiful games they don’t pay attention to? See, they are played by the people of my generation (30+), by digital immigrants who are still playing new games. Ask people in the game industry – the best target in the game market are not children, not even young adults. It’s us, digital immigrants. Fancy that, children πŸ™‚

It’s the same with a smartphone/mobile phone/anything with Internet access and the classroom. They’ve had those devices ever since they remember but it doesn’t mean they know how to use them efficiently. I believe we – the teachers – shouldn’t forbid but we should teach them how to use their devices in a classroom and in a learning process. Let me present a couple of ideas focused on using mobiles/smartphones in the classroom – I’m not going to advertise any apps, just give general ideas.

  • Dictionary

The easiest thing is – they have access to their own dictionaries. That’s pretty good, especially that more and more children have problems with traditional dictionaries due to their lack of knowledge of the alphabet (it’s not funny, it’s the ugly truth). The more advanced the group, however, the more I recommend using English-English dictionaries (my favourite is thefreedictionary.com) and since from a +intermediate group I require explaining vocabulary in English, the students simply have to use them πŸ™‚

My absolutely favourite tool. Sometimes I happen to make a quite well-known cultural reference and some students don’t get it. ‘Ohh, just google it, please‘ – is all I say. Or when we have a nice debate but we get puzzled over a fact-or-hoax issue. Let’s google the answer instead of stopping the discussion πŸ™‚

  • Camera

Now, that’s a great tool! Making and recording roleplays, creating commercials and weather forecasts, etc. and any interview is better when recorded! Not to mention a delightful homework: ask a stranger how to get somewhere + record it.

  • Music

Sometimes a nice award for a good student is to let him play a song he loves most so that we canΒ all listen to it (and then say what’s the song about). Sometimes it’s just a nice idea for a break – to listen to a song. Or sing something, especially around Christmas (just not Last Christmas…).

  • Films/Presentations

The role of films – and youtube in general – may be a blessing in a classroom without an interactive whiteboard/ projector. It’s quite easy to tell the students to watch a short film focusing on a lesson’s topic. But we may also show them some lovely presentations on slideshareΒ or some inspiring videos on TED.

  • Pictures

Apart from ‘you’ve got a new pet? show me, show me!‘ – we can use pictures students take in a classroom, especially in the exam-preparation courses, where the students will have to describe a picture on their oral part. A nice idea is also to take a picture of an everyday object but in such a weird way the rest of the class would have to guess what object it is.

Well, you don’t need a smashing new iWhatever to have fun in the classroom. This a nice step to bring the language to their everyday life and have both extreme fun (will never forget some films my students made!) and real learning – because when using their devices it’s THEM who do the job. And that’s the proper way of teaching, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

Scaredy Cat: roleplay and/or creative writing

Scaredy Cat is a project by Heather Franzen and I must say I fell in love with it the moment I saw it – in fact I’m going to buy this tiny book because it’s cute, adorable and I simply want to have it on my own πŸ™‚ Now – it’s a lovely story and let me share its sweetness with you:

sc1sc2sc3sc4sc5sc6sc7sc8

I’ve come up with some activities for my students but as I don’t know them (students, not activities) yet, I have to be prepared for different attitudes. So, maybe they like…

Creative writing:

I divide students in three groups. One group describes the story from the kitten’s point of view, second group – from the cat’s viewpoint and the third group writes a narrative.

Then, together, we make a nice story, with narratives and dialogues, mixing all three compositions.

Roleplay:

I divide students in the groups of three and ask them to make their own scenes (with spoken dialogues, of course) based on the story and record it with their phones. The groups of three – where the third person is a director and helps to make up dialogues – are comforting for those students who hate public acting.

For homework, students may be asked to come up with the ideas for the story development: were the cats still friends or maybe the fluffy kitten became a witch’s cat itself?

So, that’s a small idea for a pretty funny activity πŸ™‚

What shall we do with a rebellious student…

…early during the course

Cold-blooded murder is not an option

Quite unfortunately πŸ™‚

Some say if you make a song about your problem, it gets easier – not sure if Taylor SwiftΒ  would agree, though πŸ™‚ Anyways, feel free to sing the desperate verses above to the tune of What shall we do with a drunken sailor and let’s think about the Rebellious Teenagers πŸ™‚

chaos-field

The most important thing when it comes to the unavoidable (one’s bound to encounter rebels when teaching teenagers, there is no escape from chaos – it marks us all) is to react immediately. Not for us Obama-like approach, no, we have to be swift and smooth and deal with the rebels changing them into the paragons of English students πŸ˜‰ Or at least try – because in order to change our students (or rather their attitude) we must try to understand them… and it’s not easy, trying to understand people who don’t understand themselves!

There are different reasons for the teenagers to rebel and I’ve come up with a couple of groups (and my ideas of solutions). I really hope the readers will help me to develop the ideas.

  • Rebels against the lesson

Obvious and most common – such student doesn’t feel like learning at all and is probably forced to attend classes by the parents. Frustrating as they are, they are actually the easiest to deal with: all the teacher has to do is to discuss the issue with a student (optionally with parents) and act accordingly. Some of the students may be converted to the Dark Side (I had a rebellious student like that who became a shining star in the class – active, funny and hard-working), but some don’t want to study. At all. They simply sit and sulk. What can I do then?

Nothing. They usually want to be left alone and I cope with that allowing them to participate in the class in a slightly lesser degree. Now, I know it’s methodologically forbidden, but my priority is to let my students have fun. If they don’t – I cannot force them; why, I believe that would do more harm than good regarding both the troublesome student (stubborn as mules, they can be, teenagers) and the group (why is the teacher paying so much attention to the student who doesn’t even care and not to me… well, I can just copy that behaviour to be in a centre of attention!)

Some of them quit the course (I usually talk about it with their parents – what’s the point of forcing somebody to do something they clearly hate?), but most of them do change and after some time they forget they had hated the lessons at all πŸ™‚

  • Rebels against the teacher

I’ve always believed teaching is like any other relationship – sometimes it works against all odds, sometimes you dislike your teacher/student at first sight – it does happen and it’s nobody’s fault, really, it’s just a part of being a teacher; some students love you, some are indifferent, some hate you and wish you were dead. I remember having an issue with a student who had a problem with me being a woman – he got a male teacher and everything was fine.

Well, in such situation changing the teacher is the only option I’ve tried – I have no problems with mentioning such issues to the management, such things are bound to happen and should be solved as soon as possible.

  • Rebels against the rules

Any rules, yeah πŸ™‚ Whatever you do is wrong, and you don’t know if it’s because of you, English, school… Well – mostly it’s because of fun and desire to be in the centre of attention. I think we all know such teenagers – pretending to be idiots and enjoying it.

Well, with me – the Evil Teacher – I simply grant their wishes… actually, I overflow them with what they think they want πŸ™‚

If somebody pretends to be an idiot – I speak to him clearly, slowly and using basic vocabulary; the student gets annoyed in less than 10 minutes and starts to behave normally.

If somebody wants to be in the centre of my attention I give him all my attention (don’t worry, the group enjoys such scene immensely and it usually takes up to 10 minutes) ending each sentence with isn’t it so, sweetheart / right, love / what do you think, dear?

Believe me, after 10 minutes they stop playing stupid and behave normally (if it’s possible, we’re talking about teenagers πŸ™‚ ). Well, most of them.

Some of them don’t – and that’s the most important group, though not the most common. Those students clearly lack their parents’ attention and somehow place the teacher in a parent’s role. It’s a serious thing and I put such students in the last category:

  • Problematic students

Aww, an itchy spot, those. Some students behave rebelliously while not being rebels at all and it takes a lot of experience, patience and good observation skills to spot the problem… especially that the parents usually don’t feel like mentioning those problems to the teacher (why? another unexplained mystery of the universe).

I have had some unusual students like that – Asperger Syndrome, family problems, pathological upbringing… well, we all know that those students exist. Probably, as teenagers, they don’t even expect us to notice their problem, usually being neglected and labeled as rebels without a case. But I think it is our role: to spot those problems and try to help those children.

And that’s why, I believe, for the sake of the last group, we should approach every rebellious student individually, patiently – and immediately.

Don’t panic and use warm-ups :)

marv

Sometimes when I begin my classes – or, which is even more stressful, a new course – I stand in front of my group and immediately know that something has to be done to wake the students up and make them work. It’s easy with the adults, as they usually realise it’s up to them to learn English, plus they are allowed to drink coffee, so sooner or later they’re up and running (depending on the caffeine, I guess). It’s not so difficult with younger children as they usually are too energetic πŸ™‚

But with the teenagers? Those sleepy, yawning, not really interested in learning teenagers? What can you do to wake them up, or make them switch off their mobile phones? Give them a nice warm-up, sure. But the problem with warm-ups is that they are hardly ever connected with the topic of the lesson and I don’t like ‘wasting’ time on games with no purpose – especially that my students tend to ask me ‘why are we doing this?’, and I have to answer πŸ™‚

What I do, then, is using warm-ups to introduce the topic of the lesson. However boring it sounds, it seems to work, so let me share some of my favourite ones πŸ™‚

  • 3-words picture

Students work in groups, I give them three words connected with the lesson (environment? panda/ water/ nuclear bomb) and they are to make a picture. Then they swap the picture with the other group and have to write a short description. The more abstract ideas for the pictures, the more fun they have, plus they brainstorm for the ideas that will be developed later during the lesson.

  • Find the 10 ways you may use an object

Group-work again. I give a group one object and make them come up with ten possible ways the object can be used (food? muffin/apple/pizza… don’t give them carrots, cucumbers and apple pies if you don’t want some obvious references πŸ˜‰ ) . Then we sum up the objects as a topic of the lesson.

  • Quick hangman

The never-ending love for this game totally puzzles me, but hey, if the students like it, why can’t I use it to introduce the grammar topic? Defining and non-defining clauses look better with a picture of a hangman, apparently.

  • Make a definition

The more advanced level of the students, the better. I simply pick up a phrasal verb or quite a difficult word that we will learn during the lesson and make a sentence with it – but be careful not to make the meaning of the word too explicit. The students have to write a definition of this word on a piece of paper. I collect them and then, when we encounter the word during the lesson, I check students’ definitions and the person who got it right gets a prize (whatever you see fit: choosing a game for the end of the class, a cookie etc.).

  • Explain the proverb/ idiom

I present a couple of idioms or proverbs connected with the topic of the lesson, make the students explain them and then make short dialogues using those expressions.

  • 20 questions game

Group-work. One student in a group is given a word (connected with the lesson, of course πŸ˜‰ ) and the rest of the students are to ask him 20 questions, but! – the answer can be only yes or no. The first group who gets the word may come up with the idea of the game for the end of the lesson.

  • Pantomime

I pick a couple of students and make them present the word given without saying anything. The rest of the group guesses the word. It may be the topic of the lesson, some words or phrases connected with the lesson – it all depends on a group’s proficiency level.

I hope it will help you just as it helps me, and our students will never be sleepy… hah, as if πŸ™‚

Holidays! are gone…

LAL Taunton

What can a teacher do during holidays? Theoretically – have some rest. But since being a teacher is not the best paid job in the world (sniff…), one may also decide to work in a summer school. And that’s what I did, hence the dead silence on the blog; but from now on I will try to update it quite often. New schoolyear, new resolutions, hah!

Anyways, I was working as a teacher in a pretty lovely school in Taunton, England (watch the Hogwarts effect above!) and would like to share my experience. Some things were frustrating, some were great, but is working in a summer school worth sacrificing precious holidays?

One of the most important reasons why I decided to apply for the job was English – I’m not a native speaker, and working in Poland for a couple of years, without much contact with the native language users, is not beneficial for my own development. Working in England and having to use the language almost constantly was supposed to boost my language skills.

And it did, of course – I picked up some new expressions (like ‘half-pint’), worked on my pronunciation and met a lot of lovely people. I was lucky to work in a group of really good and dedicated teachers, had really great students (but it’s my usual luck, somehow I get really nice groups). When it comes to language and social experience – brilliant!

As a teacher I went on excursions and that was something I really liked – managed to visit London, Cardiff, Glastonbury, Salisbury (with the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen!) and other places, all of them really cool. It was fun, explaining the importance of those sites: I will never forget a lesson on Glastonbury Tor as a gate to Avalon, my students had the wildest ideas πŸ™‚

My DoS was a person who knew enough of TEFL to let me try teaching dogme style – I got an upper-intermediate group and spent six weeks trying to stimulate the students with as little materials as I only could. For six weeks I haven’t used a copier! I haven’t used the Internet in the classroom! As I’m a sworn blended learning fan, it was a challenge. And, surprisingly, fun (but will write about it in another post).

When it comes to frustrating aspects of a summer school, well, I have to mention two things: food and ‘follow-the-handbook’ way. The first was a combination of traditional school food and British food which wouldn’t have been so bad, if we hadn’t had to eat it everyday. For six weeks πŸ™‚ The first thing I did after I landed in KrakΓ³w was going to Jeff’s and having a juicy burger πŸ™‚

The second thing was a bit more serious, probably due to the personnel changing every year. To make things easier, the company has a nice handbook for us to use. The thing is, sometimes it is better to adjust the organizational stuff to the staff, rather than make everyone follow the handbook. Now, some people don’t really get it and, well, some things could be managed more efficiently, I believe πŸ™‚

Overall, it was a valuable experience. Is it worthy sacrificing a couple of your weeks off? Huh, depends on a definition of ‘a couple’ πŸ™‚ But six weeks in my case was OK, and I would recommend that kind of spending holidays to every teacher who likes challenges and meeting new people.

Oh, and the thing that killed me was the weather! I left Poland to avoid heatwave in July… and what I got was heatwave in the UK to which nobody was prepared. English weather? I had to wait a month for rain! A month!!

That was evil πŸ™‚