7 Free Online Courses in August

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With a disastrous heatwave one must reconsider the idea of summer walks and sunbathing. I myself am a creature of the night – and August is a perfect month to admire night skies with the Perseid meteor shower (in my place it will be the night between 12 and 13 August, you may check your place here). But apart from stargazing, August is the month that gives you “back-to-school” feeling. I used to love it when I was a schoolgirl, it meant friends, longer evenings to whisper your secrets, bonfire time and calm. Alas, I grew up and there are no longer summer holidays for me – but August makes me feel somewhat eager to learn.

Let me take you on my journey through the interesting online courses where you’ll certainly find something interesting for yourself!

1 Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by the University of Edinburgh

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people who are looking for the truth Out There

If stargazing is a trifle too conventional for you, this course will be a perfect choice for you, as you will study the Unknown, the prospects for life on other planetary bodies in our Solar System and how do we go about searching for it. You might start looking for a good old E.T. and end up with finding the Funghi from Yuggoth, so be careful what you wish for…

2 Improve Your Intercultural Competence  by Purdue University

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people looking to improve their intercultural skills

Being the teachers, good inter-cultural communication and an understanding of cultural differences are very important in our work. This course will help you develop the skills and acquire the knowledge needed to meet the global challenges. You will also learn to succeed in a diverse workplace and appreciate the value of cultural differences. It’s a great course not only for us to study but to pass it on to our students.

3 Presentation skills: Speechwriting and Storytelling by National Research Tomsk State University

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to make their presentations and speeches coherent and logical

This course takes a systematic approach, focusing on the content of a presentation. You will learn how to structure your ideas, facts and data into a logical convincing story using a narrative structure. This course covers fundamentals of scriptwriting, packing, argumentation and language. If you think of joining TED-ed with your students, this course may be a great help.

4 Study UK: a Guide for Education Agents and Counsellors by the British Council

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: people counselling students looking to come to the UK to study

If your students consider studying in the UK, you may find this course particularly useful. You will learn about the UK education and training system, student lifestyle issues, welfare and support for international students or application processes and entry requirements. You will also see different tools to support you as a counsellor.

5 How to Write Your First Song by the University of Sheffield

Starts: 13.08.2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to sing a brand new song to welcome their students in the classroom 🙂

If you’re one of those people who have always played on the guitar trying to come up with an own song – here’s you chance to give it a go! You will explore the whole process, starting with setting words to music, working with melody until arranging your song. It may be a great idea not only for you, but also for your students!

6 The Music of the Beatles by the University of Rochester

Starts: 13.08.2018

Duration: 7 weeks

For whom: Teachers of EFL. Seriously.

If you’re not into songmaking, but still appreciate great music, this course is for you. There is probably no band or artist that has had more written about their music than the Beatles – and while the focus will be on the music, you will also explore the culture of the 1960s. You might not like the Beatles, but their impact on music and culture in general cannot be underestimated.

7 Introduction to Psychology: The Psychology of Learning by Monash University

Starts: 27.08.2018

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: people interested in psychology

This course will help you understand how people learn different behaviours and how biology affects our ability to learn new things. You will explore the difference between learned and instinctive behaviours as well as learn about operant conditioning (learning behaviours based on positive or negative consequences), and observational learning (watching other people and imitating their behaviour). Sounds great for every teacher!

I hope you will like my recommendations – I know most of you is still enjoying the summer break (lucky you!), so I tried to find nice and light classes, but I’m sure they will prove useful and keep your brain challenged before September.

Enjoy!

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Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking” – how to make your life more creative (book review)

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If I were to name my favourite things in the classroom, that would be triple C – creativity, communication and Cthulhu. Lateral thinking is something I really enjoy – thinking out of the box is fun for students, but for teachers it’s a necessity: how can you survive teaching the same stuff over and over again without being repetitive and, even worse, without getting tired of the monotony that goes with it?

For our own sake we should set our mindshift on the change, on creativity, on new ways of approaching old problems – that is how we will adjust our classes to various groups and students and ultimately make our lessons more varied and personalised and ourselves better professionals.

A short yet very inspiring book everyone should read is “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono, who created the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Naturally, for people mad about the research the fact that there is no bibliography in de Bono’s book might be somewhat disturbing, however it is an inspiration worth reading.

The book, as every good book, starts with a story – a riddle about a small black stone and about a fresh perspective on a problem. It’s a good tale and it shows you various ways you can use a new approach to tackle an old problem. Obviously, it is quite difficult to start thinking creatively, so de Bono explains the way people conceive ideas in a surprisingly understandable manner, presenting visual element to explain quite difficult theory.

For example, de Bono declares the “obvious” solutions as the “dominant” ideas – and he proposes to put them aside while tackling the problem. We cannot blind ourselves with the obvious, if we want to achieve a more creative and uncommon idea. The danger of such thinking is that we may end up stuck with the obvious because there is no certainty of finally coming up with a new, fresh idea that will prove as useful as the old one.

De Bono mentions also the importance of the doubt and of the accident – sometimes it’s one or the other that inspire us to creative thinking (like the Isaac Newton and the famous apple that fell down from the tree right to the field of physics). The thing about lateral thinking is that in a way we let our mind wander trying to find something that will help us solve the troublesome issue. However, there is nothing certain about this process and yet, sometimes a random encounter may help us see a new and wonderful idea.

Why do kids stop playing, asks de Bono and answers: because the world stops being a new and wonderful place full of discoveries and adventures. Leaving dominant ideas and practising lateral thinking may help us enjoy the process of thinking as truly creative, enjoying the new challenges our life gives us – and make everyday problems part of extraordinary life.

If you look for inspirations – you may start with this book.

Enjoy!

de Bono, Edward “Lateral Thinking”

Penguin Books Ltd., 2016

ISBN: 9780241257548

 

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 9: Madness is Magic)

Role-Playing Teaching(Part 9_ Madness is Magic)

After a series of theoretical reflections, I want to offer you a unique experience of taking part in a RPG session designed for EFL teachers. If you’re lucky enough to take part in 4th Teachers’ Convention in Stryszawa (23-27.07.2018) or IATEFL in Wrocław (21-23.09.2018) you may have an opportunity of not only taking part in my workshop Role-Playing Teaching: Madness is Magic, but also enjoying a session as a player, with me as a game master.

If you won’t be able to take part in any of the events, I will probably organise online workshops and sessions so that you’ll see the magic of dice-rolling and storytelling.

I want to offer you two sessions to choose from – one may easily think that age is the main criterion of choice, however it isn’t so: there are adult people who enjoy My Little Pony and there are teens fascinated by the eerie horror of the Lovecraftian literature. Do not let the pink fluffiness blind your better judgement!

Call of Cthulhu

Adventure: Ties That Bind by Tom Lynch

Number of players: 2-6

English CEFR level: B2-C2

Language practice: we’ll focus on the communicative aspect of the language, mainly register and vocabulary use depending on situation (cop talk, society event, etc.)

Story: Ipswich, near Arkham, 1920s. Mrs. Enid Carrington, a wealthy heiress of one of the most influential families in town, only plans to build a beautiful fountain in her rose garden. However, there are certain things in motion that will prove the whole attempt unsuccessful. Old man’s memory, human greed, thirst of knowledge, madness… What may win against the dark shapes stirring in the shadows? The investigators will face abominable terrors, unspeakable horrors and ties that bind us all – will they attempt to break them? And if yes, at what cost?

You are going to play as: 1920s is a great period to follow an adventure – you may be a scientist, a private eye, a police officer, or even Mrs. Carrington’s best friend.

My Little Pony: Tails of Equestria

Adventure: The Pet Predicament

Number of players: 4-6

English CEFR level: A1-B1

Language practice: we’ll focus on how to implement English revision and communication into the game, how to encourage students who feel shy and how to support groupwork because friendship is magic, after all!

Story: There are many ponies in Ponyville, not only famous Alicorn, Princess Twilight Sparkle, and a lot of them want to become heroes. And sometimes even Twilight Sparkle needs help from her new friends! Will the ponies aid the Princess? Sometimes a simple quest may lead to great – and dangerous – adventures!

You are going to be: a typical young pony – you may choose whether you prefer being an Earth Pony, a Pegasus or a Unicorn.

As you can see, I may give you only two choices, but that’s how you’ll experience the variety RPGs offer. I haven’t chosen any typical fantasy system like D&D or Warhammer because, well, I believe not everyone feels like acting out an elf, but pretending to be a private eye in a 1920s film noir may be funnier and easier to try.

If you’re interested in joining the game, let me know after the workshops – or keep following my blog and FB page if you’d like to experience it online.

Let’s roll!

M-education for beginners

M-educationforbeginners

Mobile phones are one of the most controversial aspects of today’s classroom. On one hand, we try to get rid of them, on the other hand we can’t live without them. I’m not talking about students – how often do we feel like using our mobile to check something more or less related to the class? Don’t we use Facebook to connect with other teachers and ask for help or inspiration? Don’t we browse Pinterest just to get a glimpse of an idea? The thing is – we’re not talking about mobile phones anymore, we’re talking about smartphones and we should use them according to their name: smart. There’s this joke I have access to the greatest library in the world… and I’m using it to browse pictures of cute cats. While I myself am absolutely guilty of spending too much time watching adorable felines, I am trying to reintroduce smartphones in my classroom, not as a nuisance though, but as a tool.
Mobile education, also called m-learning, is perceived by some as a kind of e-learning, yet it can be much more than that. By using smartphones in the class, and allowing – or even encouraging – my students to do the same, I bring some real context to the artificial
environment of a classroom. No longer a forbidden fruit, smartphones can be useful,
entertaining and… motivating!

Making learning more engaged

The most convenient thing about smartphone is that we can use it to check our facts
immediately, anytime and anyplace – be that a grammar rule, a spelling issue or a piece of information useful for our academic writing exercise. I am really surprised with my students not realising Google Scholar is something which can be more useful – and reliable – than Wikipedia. When a random question arises, even if it’s not related to anything we are studying at that moment, I encourage my students to check the answer on the spot, thus taking care of our natural curiosity which only too often is killed by the mundane world of educational system.
I also advise my students to use The Free Dictionary by Farlex – it’s a great antidote to
imperfect Google Translate, and is enriched with games, articles, spelling bee contests and a horoscope that always predicts good things (which is the only kind of horoscope we should believe).

Making learning collaborative

Teachers can use m-learning to individualise teaching, to engage students into learning beyond school and to encourage them to work with other students – which is much easier when we can use technology to communicate and share files.
Currently, the most useful application for me is padlet – I can share all the materials needed for the next class (my favourite form of homework), some additional exercises, place for submitting essays or projectwork etc. I also create closed groups on Facebook for my students where we make polls, enjoy discussions and try some brainstorming. It is also very useful when students write they had a particularly hard day at school and would love to play games or work on communication skills, instead of having to face planned grammar activities – if I get the message early enough, I can rearrange my lesson to their needs.

With padlet being now more commercial, I recommend trello as a similar solution.

Making learning communicative

Instant messengers are natural for our students (who, as I’ve recently read, perceive e-mails as outdated) – mobile technology changed that aspect of communication, and it’s obvious that at school, when students have to disconnect and switch to traditional way of learning in a formalised way, it may be quite difficult for them. So why not start using smartphones to encourage communication?
When it comes to warm-ups, for example, I find my smartphone irreplaceable. Story Dice, Table Topics, lateral thinking games – but to name a few. I find those applications – whether on my mobile or my students’ – really enjoyable and, what’s more important, that’s a great way of making them speak English right from the beginning of the lesson. They can even download the apps on their own, thus eliminating the teacher from the process of communication and carrying it out all by themselves.

Introducing rules

Naturally, smartphones may lead to some distracting behaviours – but are students
communicating via instant messengers so different from us, who used to write notes on pieces of paper and throw them to our friends? It’s the behaviour that is the real problem, not the technology. To avoid problems, we need to introduce some rules.
My rules are simple: all smartphones should be set on silent mode (unless being used for lesson purposes), on the desk, face down. I personally allow my students to use their smartphones whenever they finish their exercises or tasks sooner than most of the class – it’s really motivating them to get to work, just to check their Snapchat and text their friend casually yeah, I’m on my English lesson and I can chat, no problem, I’ve done my stuff and it’s OK.
As a teacher, I hope it is.

If you want to read more on the topic:
Kolb, Liz and Tonner, Sharon “Mobile Phones and Mobile Learning” in: “What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media” (2012)

The article was first published in The Teacher nr 1 (155) 2018.

7 Free Online Courses in June

 

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With warmer days (in case of Rzeszów, Poland it’s actually a proper heatwave) we may either feel encouraged to spend days in the garden or in the park, or to spend evenings outside, enjoying slightly cooler air. I myself prefer the second option, especially that, as usually, I have so much to learn, that evenings and studying seem to be one… for ever.

Even if you’re not as much into CPD as I am, you might find some of the courses interesting:

1 Creative Problem Solving by University of Minnesota

Start: 04.06

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in understanding the role of creativity and innovation

This course will focus on a series of “differents” where you are challenged to identify and change your own cultural, habitual, and normal patterns of behaviour. Beginning with a prompt (eat something different), you will begin to recognise your own limits and to overcome them. You will also observe that creativity is based on societal norms – and you will discuss various benefits and disadvantages of this concept.

2 A History of Royal Fashion by University of Glasgow, Historic Royal Palaces

Start: 04.06

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in history and fashion

This course takes you into the wardrobes of British kings and queens across five royal dynasties from the Tudors, Stuarts and Georgians to the Victorians and Windsors. If you want to enjoy summer and explore the styles of monarchs and the impact of their clothing on society – that’s the perfect course for you!

3 Tricky English Grammar by University of California, Irvine

Start: 11.06

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: anyone overwhelmed by confusing grammar rules

We know that English grammar can be quite tricky and sometimes we ask native English speakers “why do you say it this way”… and they don’t know (or worse, various native speakers use different versions). This course may be useful not only for you, but also for your students, as it will provide tips that will help you understand the rules more easily and give you lots of practice with the tricky grammar of everyday English. You may also take Teaching Tips for Tricky English Grammar course!

4 The Science of Everyday Thinking by University of Queensland 

Start: 12.06

Duration: 12 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in changing their mindshift

This course deals with the mind, but discusses placebos, the paranormal, medicine, miracles, and more. You will learn how to evaluate claims, make sense of evidence, and understand why we so often make irrational choices. You will improve your decision-making skills and improve critical thinking. It may seem quite long, but it’s one of the best courses to be found on “the net”.

5 Team Coaching by Deakin University

Start: 18.06

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in coaching

This course will help you recognise the role of a coach in developing a positive team culture which may be useful not only for a teacher, but also for a DoS, especially those who start their adventure with coaching others. You will reflect on conflict, change and team development and apply principles and strategies to create a cohesive team.

6 Exploring the World of English Language Teaching by Cambridge Assessment English

Start: 18.06

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in TEFL

This is a great course for those who have been thinking of teaching EFL and want to give it a go. You will learn about various teaching contexts and types of students, basic concepts and terminology used for describing communication skills, language analysis and awareness, using resources and other useful information for a teacher-to-be.

7 Developing Your Research Project by University of Southampton

Start: 18.06

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: anyone with an interest in to undertake some academic research

This course guides you step-by-step if you think of undertaking an Extended Project Qualification, IB extended essay or any other scholarly research. You will learn about the principles of academic research, academic reading and note taking, drafting and developing research proposals as well as referencing, plagiarism, and academic integrity. If your students consider studying abroad, this may be a perfect course for them!

I hope you’ll find the courses useful – I myself will probably go for the Everyday Thinking – if you choose the same, we might meet online 🙂

Enjoy!

5 ways to shine at your speaking test

5 ways to shine at your speaking test

There’s always one part of testing English that you hate. Some hate writing, others listening (aye, that would be me), but somehow it’s speaking that seems to cause lots of worries. To tell you the truth, I haven’t had problems with speaking ever since I came up with some simple steps. I can’t claim you’ll excel at speaking tests after following my ideas, but I do encourage you to give them a go – maybe they’ll work out for you just as they did for me!

1 Be a star!

Do you often do such boring tasks like housework? Doing the dishes may be an opportunity to play some kind of make-believe, and I don’t want you to become Anne of the Green Gables (unless you feel like it), but to imagine you’re a celebrity. Famous, gorgeous, popular and very much in demand for any interviewer possible. Now, controversial as it may be, celebrities are being asked about opinions on just too many things, starting with the weather, through world conflicts, ending with relationship advice – and here you are, being asked about as many various things as only you can think of. Be the Vacuuming Beyoncé, or Ronaldo, driving alone in his car – and talk to imaginary interviewer

(…) of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.

2 Make your vocabulary shiny

You might already know that I’m a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and so I revel in the rich and sophisticated vocabulary you will find in his writings. When I was studying English Philology, I decided to learn some of the expressions by heart, so that I could get bonus points for impressive vocabulary. To be honest, it was hilarious, when a simple task of describing a car ride became in my version nothing less than a start of the Apocalypse, full of, naturally, blasphemous and amorphous shapes harbingering the Elder Gods. You get the gist, right? Obviously, I don’t recommend using such a specific area of lexis during your exams, but pick something you are absolutely sure you’ll be able to put in every single topic.

Like Great Cthulhu, obviously.

3 Role-play a little bit

I am deeply convinced that if anything, Role-Playing Games are the best source of fun-related speaking exercises. If you want to go full RPG, you might want to read my articles related to this matter, but to be honest – all you need to do is pick up a role of a more or less real person (you might be Harry Potter, or James Bond, or Elizabeth Bennet etc.) and act out for a while – the idea is quite similar to the one where you pretend to be a celebrity, but here you may ask a friend to impersonate another person just to have funny little chats “in roles” – all you need to do is to find someone to be a Watson to your Sherlock.

4 Think of a magic word

Have you ever tried to say bubbles angrily? You probably can’t, it’s just such a funny lovely word that makes you smile. Similarly with kitten, puppy – any other ideas? For me it’s catkin, don’t know why it’s just a word that makes me smile. Why do you need this? Because you should remember this word right before your exam (write it on your wrist if you might forget it). Whenever you start stressing out, imagine yourself in front of the examiners introducing yourself as “Hi, my name is Monika and my favourite word is catkin”.

Only, maybe don’t do this in real life exam…

5 Smile

It was proved that if you smile, your brain relaxes (you’ve probably heard of the famous pencil-in-mouth experiment where people faking smiles were indeed more relaxed… only this experiment was replicated 2 years ago and the results weren’t so optimistic). Apparently, fake smiles don’t work, you really need to feel it – so even if you feel terribly nervous, fake it till you make it! As an examiner, I’ll tell you, smiling people seem more confident, more pleasant and generally are easier to test.

Now, a bonus piece of advice comes from my Phonetics lecturer:

Have a shot (just one, mind!)

Of course, only if you are of age. And if you’ve had a decent breakfast. And if you have some chewing gum so that you won’t be too obvious. Seriously, while alcohol isn’t good for your voice in the long run (unless you want to have that hoarse sexy voice of Janice Joplin), it does switch off your feeling of stress and loosens up your muscles as well as vocal cords which makes speaking physically easier (it’s like in a real life, easier to chat in a foreign language after you’ve had a pint). It’s a somewhat risky method, mind, so I won’t encourage you to try it out before a real test – maybe record yourself speaking, then have a shot and continue to check how your fluency increases and your coherence… well, you might imagine.

Enjoy your experiments!

Self-assessment: how I introduced it in the classroom and survived

You're the best dad ever!

Some time ago I had a really nice chat with my almost-workmate Anna about self-assessment and challenges it may create. I talked about it from the perspective of my language school, she – from the viewpoint of a teacher in a public school. Our aims were the same, to introduce and implement self-assessment in our classes. Our environments, however, couldn’t have been more different.

Working in a private language school – let alone being a DoS with one – has encouraged me to try various approaches and methods in teaching. Dogme? – sure thing (you wouldn’t believe, though, the amount of lesson prep before a Dogme-style class). TBL? – great idea. Flipped classroom? – always! Station rotation? – awesome! I am absolutely aware, though, that educational system represented by public schools would never let me experiment, as in the system I would only be expected to deliver what’s in the curriculum.

I know. I left the system after two years in a primary school. Still keep in touch with “my” kids, though, bless their wicked little hearts.

Harris and McCann (Assessment Macmillan Heinemann, 1994) observe that students are often passive and expect teachers to tell them if they have done well or badly. This may be an issue when it comes to most Polish teenagers I know. That is why I decided to implement self-assessment throughout the whole IELTS preparatory course, so that both the students and I would be able to follow progress constantly. Moreover, the ability of self-assessing (valuable not only in language learning) should be a broad educational objective at secondary level – and the teens I teach think of studying abroad.

Self-assessment needs to be done at regular intervals, so that learners can be given an opportunity to think about what progress they are making and what their problems are. One of the benefits of teaching this particular group of students is that I taught them in the previous years, implementing peer review during tests and encouraging self-assessing activities in forms of questionnaires and regular individual interviews (some of them, especially the final one was conducted with students and their parents).

When it comes to self-assessment, I implemented it mainly during assessing speaking and writing skills, as those areas were crucial according to the needs’ analysis. What’s more, since reading and listening abilities may be practised during regular classes the students participate in their public schools, academic writing and IELTS-oriented speaking may not.

Apart from in-class speaking tasks, the students were asked to record themselves at home and listen to themselves, which is one of the most beneficial exercises before any speaking test – it may come as a surprise, but they actually did it, even sent me recordings with their self-assessment, highly underestimating their skills, which seems a traditional Polish approach to self-assessment. In-class we practised speaking in front of the classroom (incorporating peer review), but both the students and I believe self-assessing part is the most beneficial for further development.

Writing tasks proved to be the most difficult when it comes to implementing self-assessment, however, it also proved to be the most rewarding. In order to make the students reflect on their essays I highlighted the fragments requiring some change and did marking on a separate piece of paper. The students then were given their papers back, corrected the highlighted areas and tried to mark their own compositions – after this I handed out my markings and we compared the versions, which allowed for not only correction and development, but better understanding of the IELTS marking system.

What implementing self-assessment gave me, was something close to all-year long system of formative assessment. The great bonus is that those teens gain the great skill of being able to self-assess their own progress and this is a skill that will be useful in the future, when the memory of the IELTS preparation course is long gone.

I believe a step-by-step approach may help introducing self-assessment even within a framework of public education. Try peer review instead of marking tests, maybe a class contest instead of short tests, let them create their own quizzes, let them assess themselves. The teachers in public schools are expected to teach so that kids pass their tests – but maybe if you try a very slow process of implementing self-assessment, your students will appreciate something new that not only is fun, but also makes them learn even more.

Enjoy!