Summer school madness – 8 tips from a survivor

Summer school madness

I remember my first summer school (Taunton 2013, six weeks) and paraphrasing Lana del Rey’s Summertime sadness into summerschool madness – we should’ve made a staff choir, come to think of it. Being a DoS, however, means working full time, so I can’t go and join my friends working with various summer schools, but a friend of mine is joining a summer school in England for the very first time and asked me to write some tips for summer school virgins. Here we go, then – if I managed to survive, so will you!

1 Don’t panic! and choose a proper school

The most important thing is to pick a good school, where not only students but also teachers are well taken care of. You will need materials, resource books and a good DoS (or ADoS) to help you through. Apart from reading opinions on the Internet check whether the school has British Council Accreditation – you want to make sure your future workplace is a good school. British Council does inspections to make sure those schools have proper standards, so picking an accredited centre would be my priority.

2 Pack your things sensibly

Surprise – you’re not going to the end of the world, even if you travel from the continent! You’ll probably be able to buy most of the things you need on the spot, but if you have your favourite cosmetics – take them with you as the brand may be unavailable in the UK. Remember to take an adapter if you need it. I’d recommend taking an e-reader, no need to take books (though I’d invest in 700 Classroom Activities, my favourite teaching tool ever). You will be sent a vademecum from your school, so pay attention to dress code, but also remember you’ll probably go on school trips, so make sure you’ve got some suitable clothes. And shoes.

3 The Internet

Well, this might be a tricky point – you will probably be located in a normal school and the Internet protection in the UK is much higher than in most EU countries, so you may get a nasty surprise when your news page turns out to be blocked (possible nudity). I’ve encountered a school blocking google, so yeah, things may be fun. If you want to avoid it, simply buy a UK phone number with a good data package. My friend recommends getting a Giff Gaff, as you can order your SIM card to your country and actually have it before you go to the UK. However, what surprised me was how many hotspots in a city can be out of reach, compared to Poland.

Oh, and the only browser on school computers was IE, so… remember, remarks about poor technological development of the country may be considered rude.

4 The Madness

Had anyone told me this before I joined LAL I’d probably smile, but here it is: summer school is madness. You live in a bubble of contained space and extremely intensive time with pretty much the same people, there has to be tension, you can’t escape it. The good things will be beyond perfection, the bad things will create drama (honestly, you will see adult people cry) – you need to realise that there will be simple events intensified to the level you’ve forgotten since you left your boarding school. There will be adult people behaving like teenagers (and teenagers behaving like teenagers, so at least that will be normal) and there’s nothing wrong with it. Being a summer school teacher is not a summer chill, you will have more responsibilities than just teaching… and, something you’ll probably never get used to, the rest of the staff will not understand how serious business teaching is. This may be one of those things that create tension, but, as I say, it is absolutely understandable in summerschool madness.

5 Other teachers

This is probably the best aspect of a summer school – your colleagues. You will meet so many people from various environments, you’ll have so much time to discuss teaching methods, compare your ideas and learn new things. And due to the Madness, you’ll make a special bond with these people (sometimes known as We Survived attitude) that will last longer than the summer. I have made real friendships and I am really grateful to my LAL mates for suffering my recalcitrant self. Kudos!

6 Teaching

Right, there will be students, probably from various countries and this is both wonderful and somewhat scary. You will have a lot of cross cultural issues to learn, remember, explain etc. You probably will develop some weird kind of preference (I really liked working with Russians and Germans, especially a certain magical group in 2014), and there will be students you won’t ever forget (again, the Madness, you will see those kids everyday and they will be far-away-from-home teenagers, sometimes they will look up to the only authority they know – a teacher, just be sure to listen to them, they are bound to have their dramas and there will be no parents to help). When it comes to teaching – it is summer school, after all, so leave that copy of grammar drills and go for full fun and communication!

7 Food

It was the summer school experience that taught me British food can be actually delicious. Only during British summer could I eat crisps with vinegar and actually enjoy it, but as I usually picked Taunton in Somerset (adorable place and lovely local people!), I discovered proper cheddar (something I couldn’t get in Ireland, sorry Dublin) and Blue Stilton which is one of my guilty pleasures. But there was clotted cream and Thatchers Gold… and they have cider festival in Somerset which means I always came back home heavier than I left.

8 Experience

You will either love it or hate it, it is an experience so intensive it will leave you drained and in need of another holidays. You will meet a lot of people, some of them will make you a better person and some of them will make you see red. If you are single, you might as well finish summer school in a relationship. But it is one of the most educational periods of time, not only from a professional point of view, but also personally. Is there any piece of advice? Sure:

Keep your eyes open and let your horizons broaden. Don’t be petty. Laugh whenever you can. Make friends. Learn. Curse hot and cold taps only when nobody hears you.

 

This post was heavily inspired, so I need to give credit where credit’s due.
Gosia – thank you for making me write this post.
LAL – the summer school with which I worked for three unforgettable summers. May there be more in the future.
My fellow LAL teachers: Kasia, David, Dave, Shonie, Filip, Ania, Gizella, Michal, Sandrine, Summyyah, Kait (my long-lost twin), Mark, Rozenn, Agata, Merve, Gocha, Viorica, Ndrew – that would be lovely seeing you again
Sebastian, Ivan, Georgii, Christopher – friendship is magic. Always.

Can fake identity be useful for teachers?

fake identity

I’ve always believed being a teacher is like being a performer (in my case usually a clown but hey, still better than Kenneth Branagh trying to impersonate Hercule Poirot), a psychologist (at least when it comes to being quiet and listening) or a Game Master (trying to organise a year-long campaign for a bunch of ungrateful players). I guess the similarity to Role Playing Games is the closest to my perception of the role of a teacher, and I’m certainly going to write something about it (probably during holidays when I have more time to let my mind roam free), but today I’m going to show you something you might not have thought of using, and which proves that a teacher role for today is almost a secret agent!

There have been rumours of a female Bond, you know…

No, I’m not going to encourage you to secretly dispose of the students who forget their homework (it’s not a coincidence they won’t give teachers licence to kill, I’m afraid), I am merely going to show you Fake Name Generator and prove it to be an excellent teaching aid.

1 Present Simple exercise (A1+)

It’s not always easy for people to talk about themselves and that’s one of the most common exercises to practise Present Simple. It may be easier to prepare fake portfolios using the Generator and let them describe particular character and their personal details and then get creative and think of their daily routine, likes and dislikes etc.

2 Creating characters for role-plays (A2-C2)

It’s much more interesting to create a role-play when the characters are quite different from real students. Instead of making a debate with a bunch of bored teenagers we may give the very same topic to discuss, but ask our students to assume the roles given (and thanks to the Generator we may create the characters on the spot!) challenging them to not only readjust their arguments to their characters’ viewpoints, but also change their range of vocabulary and even accent (if they’re fluent enough).

3 Business English (A2-C2)

Similar to the previous ideas, it may be easier for students to engage into conversations with fake characters – in this case it would be a teacher who acts a generated person. I find it highly useful in HR-centred areas, as you can arrange many communicative situations with various characters debating possible business problems, yet distancing from them at the same time by using fictional characters.

4 Total immersion (B1-C2)

Now, if your class is into experiments, you might ask them to try and create characters with the Generator at home, and pretend to live the life of their fake identities for a week or a month. You need to come to classes dressed a little bit differently (just a small accessory would do to emphasise our identity), change your small talk (“how’s your boss?” “still looking for work?” “kids and wifey ok?” etc.), you may even write emails to one another. It’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of learning.

5 Teaching tool for checking apps online

As a teacher, the Generator may prove surprisingly useful when you want to check an app or a website and they ask you to log in or give your email. Now, the emails given by the Generator are real and working – so you may use fake identities to check new things out before you decide you want to sign up for them. It’s pretty much like being a secret agent, isn’t it?

Here are my favourite ideas on bringing fake identities to life – inside and outside of classroom. You may give them a go – or you may encourage students who are reluctant to sign up for Facebook and can’t join your group to check things out. Fake Name Generator isn’t really a teaching tool, but as I try to prove – everything can be a means of education if you’re willing to try. And if you do, maybe you’ll come up with your own ideas on how to use the Generator?

Enjoy!

 

Want to teach online? RPG comes to the rescue!

Want to teach online-

Last month I took part in Anna Poplawska’s workshop on teaching online. I was teaching online for a while and I’m absolutely sure I’ll get back to this form of teaching sooner or later (probably sooner) – however, I got inspired when we discussed various forms of teaching platforms. Today, I want to share with you an idea of a free platform where you could practise skills required from a professional online teacher.

First of all – why would I recommend a platform? Naturally, you can practise your communicative skills on Skype or Google Hangouts, but it’s far more to teaching online than mere speaking or (limited, but still) body language. You have to multitask quite a lot, switching between speaking, listening to particular student, reading chat window and preparing next slides etc. Working on an actual platform will definitely help you. But where to find a free platform where you could practise?

Surprisingly, my idea springs from my proper hobby – roleplaying games. I love playing pen-and-paper RPGs, but they require meeting up with people, which may be quite difficult to organise when you’re over 30 and your mates live all around the country. Meeting three times a year is awesome, but at the same time quite frustrating, so we went online. The platform we started on was Roll20 and it turned out to be a good way to play.

Now, those who play RPG will know, those who haven’t tried yet – believe me: teaching is pretty much like being a Game Master, only you’re dealing with people who seem to be more sensible.

Roll20, a free online platform, is actually a set of digital tools that expand traditional pen-and-paper game. You can easily ignore the dice rolling and use it as a teaching tool, and let me share some tips on how to start.

1 Create an account

You don’t need to choose a game setting, it’s optional and treat it as one of many parts you’ll probably ignore (as rolling the dice and game mechanics). Create your own campaign (English lesson 1, for instance) and that’s it! If you want to invite someone, just send them a link.

2 Video+voice chat

This kind of connection requires simply a WebRTC compatible browser (Chrome, Opera or Firefox will do). If your connection is too slow, you may turn off the video and keep talking. Generally, it’s really important to check your connection, especially upload, before teaching online – I usually use Adobe Meeting Connection Diagnostic, but it’s due to my work on AdobeConnect, so find your favourite test.

Tip: camera and mic will operate no sooner than someone joins the game, so don’t worry if you don’t see any options at first!

3 Tools

Drawing tools (panel on the left): you may use default screen as a board and write on it (so may your students).

Handouts (panel on the right): you may use it to share slides – images or scans from a book. Remember, once you share an image, you can write on it, so that’s pretty useful. Basically, once you share your handout it will look like a background map.

Background music: now, this is this aspect of roll20 that I find particularly annoying because you simply cannot upload a track. You can share a link, though – so you may upload a track on GoogleDrive and share a link to it so that everyone can listen to it individually, but that would be all. Really annoying.

Secret whisper: apart from a chat window, everyone can use an option “secret whisper”, which is a chat seen only by people to whom whisper is directed. You, however, will be able to see everything, so no cheating for your students!

4 Practise!

Try to prepare a short lesson with warm-ups (e.g. pictures to compare), listening (link to track + slide with exercise), reading and a follow-up discussion.

Invite your friends or students to participate in your online classes and have fun practising online teaching!

Good luck and let me know how you found roll20!

7 British TV shows you can enjoy with your students

shopping

We live in times when the only constant seems to be change. Just a few years ago piracy was ever so common, as it was the easiest, and sometimes the only way to watch British or American TV shows. Nowadays, with Netflix or Amazon we can pay to legally watch anything we want. Isn’t it just perfect?

With so many TV shows it has never been easier to immerse into a foreign culture, however I’d like to share some TV shows that may be not so famous among our younger students but which are very important in British pop culture. That is why you will not find Downtown Abbey on my list. You won’t find Sherlock either, purely for personal reasons – I loved the first season, but then was getting worse and worse to reach quite abominable level in the last season.

Couldn’t recommend such atrocity <shudder>

Here’s the list of 7 British TV shows I like, enjoy and share with my students not only for linguistic reasons, but also for cultural background:

1 Escape to the Country by BBC

The basic premise of the show is that a person or a family wishes to relocate from their current city home to a more peaceful and rural area. They are shown into three various houses, but also sample local delights, gain historical knowledge and visit local attractions to get a feel for the area they are planning to move to. For this reasons it is a perfect thing to show not only typical British houses (which vary from continental ones), but also cultural background. Another reason is my favourite presenter, Jules Hudson, whose smile and enthusiasm regularly make my day.

2 Blink – Doctor Who, S03E10

I’m not a whovian, but it’s impossible to deny the impact Doctor Who has on British popculture. The show has got famous overseas as well, but I don’t think many teenagers would remember season 3, even if it has the most brilliant episode ever.

Maybe because, there’s almost no Doctor himself.

Anyway, Blink is the film I love sharing with my students because it hints at the Doctor’s secrets but never reveals them, and I believe it’s the best  episode to explain Doctor Who’s phenomenon.

Also, this is probably the best thing Steven Moffat wrote, so let’s take a moment to appreciate it.

3 Fawlty Towers by BBC

While Monty Python with their films and sketches might be a bit too much to bite for people who have not grasped yet the complexity of British nonsensical humour, Fawlty Towers seems both less offensive and much easier to comprehend. And the only real reason students should get familiar with Mr Basil Fawlty and his misadventures is, simply, the fact, that not knowing John Cleese is not knowing anything about British sense of humour at all.

4 Blackadder by BBC1

Mr Bean is famous all right, but frankly, once you watch Black Adder you won’t be able to forget Rowan Atkinson playing Blackadder (or Black Adder, depending on season) leading us through British history together with his servant Baldrick and infamous Lord Percy the poisoner.

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It’s worth watching not only for pure fun, but also for vast historical background, as Blackadder travels through various historical affairs.

5 The Thick Of It by BBC

I watched In the Loop completely by chance, during some kind of independent film festival – and I loved every minute of it. Needless to say, when I learnt there is a whole TV series about Malcolm Tucker and his, well, objects of eternal insult – I had to watch it. I recommend it to quite mature and linguistically proficient students as the level of verbal abuse, as well as political nuances, is so high it may be lost on people not fluent in political affairs.

I believe this is the best role of Peter Capaldi.

6 Top Gear by BBC

It was a good show, too bad BBC and the TG trio parted their ways as nothing good comes out of this (sorry, Amazon, but The Grand Tour is nowhere near good old Top Gear). The thing I recommend most is choosing one of Top Gear Specials as the show culture clashes the British trio experiences on many occasions. My favourite special is definitely the US special soon after Katrina. I prepared a short comprehension test for my students to answer while watching and most of B2+ students have no problems with understanding.

7 Shetland by BBC One

Well, here you may wonder why Shetland? Why not Broadchurch, Grantchester or Inspector Morse (or Endeavour which is one of my favourite TV shows ever)? The answer is simple: this TV series shows us those areas of the UK that are usually neglected, forgotten – but nonetheless beautiful and really interesting. The atmosphere of a closed community where no one dares to openly blame another – and yet everyone suspects everybody, is just too real to ignore. I would definitely use this TV show for more mature audience who would be able to understand all the hidden messages in this surprisingly complex, and truly beautiful, TV series.

 

And that, as they say, is that – here’s my pick of seven great shows, but I’m absolutely sure you have your own ideas on which shows would be more relevant in your classroom. Why don’t you share your proposals?