Are we really creative?

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Source: ist.greenville.edu

Ten days ago I took part in a great webinar by Agnieszka Gągała from Szkolimy that was focused on creativity – you know it’s a great webinar when it’s 9 p.m. and you’re still having fun. We discussed the concept of creativity as a way of thinking characterised by originality, flexibility, fluency and elaboration, but we also took part in some games/exercises on creativity as well as original and lateral thinking (if you want to practice some lateral puzzles, you may want to have a look at one of my previous notes). I do recommend taking part in Agnieszka’s webinar, so whenever you see her workshops around, definitely join them! You can have a look at it here (Polish only, sorry!):

Apart from having fun, I was reminded of this famous TED talk by Ken Robinson, “Do schools kill creativity?” and the perfect statement regarding the role of creativity in education:

So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

Now, creativity is one of the most important values for me, not only in teaching, but in everyday life. And, sadly, it’s one of the reasons I stopped working in public education system where I struggled to bring some fun into exam-oriented environment. I’m afraid our education system is so focused on tests and somewhat wrongly perceived linguistic competence, that there’s not enough place for communication skills, cross-cultural experiences and, well, having fun. Students are locked in classrooms with grammar books and vocabulary exercises instead of actually using the language, because the main goal of school is test preparation, and the main expectation of parents is that their child passes those tests. This is really sad, and I must admit I absolutely respect those teachers who fight to change this state of things.

I have been working with kids and teenagers for a few years now, and I must admit that one of the saddest things I’ve observed is the lack of creativity. When I meet new students it usually takes 4-6 weeks to make them think out of the box and it’s honestly quite heartbreaking for me, because I remember myself when I was their age, some weird ideas (when I was 16 I seriously planned to study mechanics and become a president) and I feel really sorry for children who are simply not used to balderdash, being constantly reminded to focus on their future career.

It is definitely easier to work creatively when you work in a private language school, and I love it – using those parts of books I like, bringing in fun, making students talk and actually have fun using the language they’ve acquired through grammar-and-vocabulary-exercises. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever heard was when one of my students told me after our last classes: “you know, I’ve made progress, and I can speak English without fear… and I don’t even know when this all happened”. One of my personal highlights.

Being creative is the key to opening, unblocking someone else’s creativity – but I’m not really sure that being a “creative teacher” is enough, I’d say that being a creative human being is more important here. I believe we, teachers, should not only bring creative classroom activities, we should focus on unblocking this aspect in our students’ mindsets. I’m nor really sure that attitude is something anyone expects us to do, but in a world where creativity is clearly needed yet restrained by the career-focused environment, it’s the teachers that should take at least part of responsibility for students’ creative growth. After all, we’re here not only to share knowledge, we’re here to teach and there’s more to it than preparing creative games for the classes.

And I want to quote Sir Ken Robinson to finish my note:

We have to be careful now that we use this gift (of the human imagination) wisely (…). And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way – we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.

I’d love to know what you think about creativity and its importance – please, share your comments and if you liked my blog, follow it on Facebook.

How do we learn (and how can we use Padlet in the classroom)?

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I don’t even remember how I came across Padlet, but since one of my vices is being overly organised (I’ve realised I’m overly organised when I noticed how many people laugh at me or stare in disbelief once they see me do admin work), that was love at first sight – and obviously, as a properly infatuated teacher, I’ve decided to share my ideas on making Padlet an awesome tool in teaching both inside and outside the classroom.

This year I’ve decided to start my classes with a very important topic, which is learning itself – I have observed how many people simply don’t know how to study efficiently (my junior high class), how to find time for extra study (my high school class) or simply forgot how to study at all (my adult class). As a proper master I came to help and created the padlet below to use in class and show my padawans the Way of Learning. You can see the padlet below (yes, it’s a tiny one, if you feel like adding your own links here I’d be more than happy!).

CLICK on: How do we learn?

I started my classes with showing this adorable drawer full of highlighters and post-it notes and we had a chat about our ways of learning etc. Then we moved to discussing types of students and identifying ourselves, trying to get 2-3 learning methods that would work with us.

We made a circle and got a visual of our daily organisation and discussed the possibilities of learning in non-traditional situations (audiobooks while commuting? Memrise while waiting for a sports club?). We also had a chat about morning routines and how we can make them as pleasant as possible (if it’s possible at all, huh).

I put emphasis on note-taking and presented it as a main focus this season (one of my observations being that especially young people have problems with proper note-taking). We talked about doodling in the class and how we actually can change it into far more productive note-taking (embellishments, pictures, short comments etc.). There is a theory that once you copy draft notes into a neat and proper note within 9 hours after classes it’s much more effective than doing it later (or not doing it at all for that matter).

We discussed tips, elements of learning online and I was really pleased as my students seemed really into adding this board into our lesson – so I’ve decided to make it an all-year project. I prepare a board before the lesson and use it with my class (the perk is, students only scan my QRcode instead of googling stuff and have all the materials ready). I find it really nice with younger students as they love using mobiles in the classroom and Padlet is a really user-friendly mobile app, they can add their own ideas and I don’t have to print photos, articles etc.

With my adult group, however, I’ve decided to go full Flipped Model – I give them a QRcode to the next class and they have to read articles and cover vocabulary before the lesson. It motivates them to prepare for classes and I find it a better way of making them do something outside the classroom rather than giving them boring homework 🙂

How long will we work like this? I’m not sure, but if you want me to write about it, let me know 🙂

And if you liked this post, follow my page on Facebook for more useful stuff.

Enjoy!

To be or not to be (yourself)

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In his book, Jim Scrivener advises teachers to “be themselves”. I really respect those who can be both teachers and themselves at the same time. I’d rather not, thanks 😉 I support a more Shakespearean approach, simply, the classroom is a stage, I’m an actress and as a bonus, I also write the script 🙂

I remember vividly that when I started teaching I was 23 and I was lost. I barely knew what I was supposed to do in the classroom and I was thrown into the environment expecting me to be a professional. A piece of advice like “be yourself” wouldn’t have helped me at all, how can you be yourself when you’re 23?

Well, a blessing in disguise, my parents were teachers (yeah, they both taught Maths and dad used to be my teacher at school, I grew up in hell 😉 ) so I picked the only strategy I could have thought of – to pretend I actually was a professional and that I knew what I was doing.

Surprisingly, it worked well. To be honest, it still does, because my style of teaching includes a lot of acting, luckily, it’s the type of performance I can run. I am an entertainer, a show runner, just to keep my students interested in the lesson, as simple as that.

To be honest, I don’t really believe in teachers being themselves. We’re only humans, after all, having our good days and bad days, but I’m not convinced that students should ever spot the difference during the class. Playing a role I feel comfortable in helps me hide insecurities and pretend I’m totally enjoying myself. Even when I am experiencing some tough stuff at the same time.

I don’t mean we have to play absolutely confident roles, I have no problems with admitting I don’t know all the things my students want to know, that I need to double check some grammar issues (articles!). I just believe teachers are professionals and no student should ever suspect their private life might be somewhat messy 😉 and while it’s quite a truism, assuming a role makes it way easier for me.

Also, accepting teaching as some kind of performance helps me detach myself from teaching right after I leave the classroom. You know, the audience is gone, the lights are off…

…and I may comfortably get back to my real life as the Evil Empress of the World 😉

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“First writing” tips

Writing can be one of the most tiresome endeavours of a student – can you recall your own papers, compositions, etc? Surely, not the funniest part of learning 🙂 My language teachers assumed I was able to write a nice story, so they never bothered to teach me how to write. Only at university did I learn what a topic sentence is 🙂

I see no reason not to pass the knowledge further on and teach some writing techniques to my own students. I’ve realised that the sooner they get the basics, the better their writing compositions are.

I think you can start even with elementary students, doing some exercises. Here, I wrote a simple sentence and asked my students to expand it by adding words and phrases. That’s what we got:

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On my last lesson, with my pre-intermediate group of teenagers, I explained what a topic sentence is and we decided to make a short outline of a story using only simple topic sentences. That’s what we got:

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Next, we thought about what exactly we are going to include in the paragraphs. We could do it together, deciding to write one story with the same plot and details, but at that moment my students started to grow their own ideas, so we just made a general outline:

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And then, I asked them to write down some keywords and phrases. It’s a pre-intermediate level, so it’s not too crazy 🙂 but on the more advanced levels I ask my students to add 2-3 items of sophisticated vocabulary, some phrasal verbs, an idiom or two, maybe a proverb. We tend to forget all those nice words while writing (especially on a test), but planning – and writing down – ideas, before we start writing, is a really good idea.

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That’s the final outline.

Next, I asked my students to elaborate the topic sentences the way we did during these simple exercises (like the one in the first photo). That’s how I’m able to monitor their work 🙂

Writing a full story (based on the outline, naturally) is their homework.

Since I include a short essay/composition on every test, I give my students more time to deal with this part, but I ask them to write not only the complete task, but also the process – topic sentences, ideas, keywords. It helps me to observe their progress and help them in those aspects they struggle with.

I hope you’ll find the idea worth giving it a try 🙂

(Thank you, group Washington, a.k.a. LeniweBuły, for your cooperation 😉 )

Let’s write a poem!

Yesterday, when I was on my way to work, I was thinking about the lesson – a group of pre-int teenagers and grammar + vocabulary revision. Not necessarily exciting thing, admit it.

Maybe I’ll give them a funny warm up at least, I thought – and I decided to make them write a poem, which we had never done before.

First came the rhymes, and I found this really helpful to review vocabulary (aye, they had a lesson on Guy Fawkes Night, hence plot), but then the real fun began. I’ll just share the photo of the final outcome… And let me say we thoroughly enjoyed this activity and we’re definitely going to develop our poetical creativity 🙂

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No, the final mayhem wasn’t my idea, it’s just the group I’m teaching. But then again, since I’m the Evil Teacher what else would you expect?

Come to the Dark Side, we have cookies!

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A while ago British Council – Teaching English posted a question on fb how the teachers use role playing during the classes. Well, it took me ages to write about it, but it’s quite an important issue for me and explains a lot of my teaching attitude – you may try it too and have just as much fun as I do, especially with children and young adults.

First of all I have to explain that I’ve been enjoying role-playing games (RPGs) for more than half of my life and it’s – no surprise – one of my favourite pastimes. I can say, basing on my own experience, how well RPGs develop imagination and creativity, so I had tried to put some of this fun into my classes – it didn’t go exactly as I planned, but… well, you never know, eh?

Ever since I remember, a teacher and a student were at the opposite sides of everything: learning process (teacher wants student to learn most unnecessary things and not the ones student wants to learn), life (teacher shows only theory, will poor student use that knowledge in real life?), fun – literally every area of life! Poor students 🙂

Teaching young adults I came to realize that most of them study English not because they want to, but because their parents make them. I will never forget one of my students, who bitterly commented my idea of brightening the classes with a grammar game. ‘Grammar games are like playing with the devil’ – said Ania and little did she know how inspiring her words were.

Since I was to be a person who makes somebody else do what I want, I decided to take a ridiculously exaggerated role of the Evil Teacher. The Evil Teacher is not a usual kind of a teacher, of course, but somehow it turned up to be fun both for me and my students – as soon as they realise I’m pretending and not likely to skin them alive (too much blood anyways, really…). It’s pretty useful when my students whine over homework – I usually explain calmly that their pleads will not soften my black and rotten heart. They say ‘right, I forgot your heart is made of stone’ and… stop whining. Yay 🙂 Plus, they don’t expect me to prepare easy tests, allow them to use dictionaries all the time or make their lives easier – we save a lot of teaching time by avoiding those silly discussions which I’d win anyways.

Being the Evil Teacher requires making threats, but then again no proper teacher would threaten a student, unless… the threats are elaborate, absurd and funny: if you don’t stop chatting, I’ll rip your head off and plant a cabbage in your neck! It’s quite important to make the students realise you’re only joking, but since I’ve been doing this for years and no angry parent came to talk to me – it works.

I don’t believe any child would take me ripping their head off seriously, but it’s always good to be on the safe side and explain it’s just a play.

Now, the only thing that didn’t go just as I had planned was… well, of course – the students themselves. Somehow they didn’t seem to be attracted to take roles of some superheroes who defeat their evil enemy by smashing her test. Instead, I’ve had cases like Nastusia, who came to me once and announced: ‘I asked my mum if I could be your minion and she agreed’

And that’s how, instead of superheroes, I have a bunch of minions. So: let’s take over the world…

…in English, please 🙂