The Tales of a Young Teacher

The tales of a young teacher - new beginnings

It’s been a long while since I’ve updated my blog and all the excuses that I’ve shared with you before still apply; lots of work, loads of stress and a general lack of time. However today I found myself with a free Friday night, a general indifference towards Netflix and books and well, that’s how I ended up behind my laptop happily typing away. The reason for my writing is the fact that I’ll be starting a new job in August and so I’m currently living in a constant state of happiness blended with a huge amount of anxiety. Which is a fun combination to be sure.

The job is actually perfect, a big school that is quite close to my house (say bye fricking bye to all the commuting), teaching at VWO level which basically means that my students are generally intelligent and better yet I’ll even get the chance to teach one or two history classes in English. Basically, it’s everything I dreamed about since starting my teacher training, but it does mean that I’ll be leaving behind my current students and my coworkers. Many of whom I adore (students, not necessarily coworkers :P) and that saddens me more than I thought it would. I get on well with my students and so leaving them behind is hard. And although rationally speaking I know that they’ll have forgotten me within a month or so and I will probably move on as well, saying goodbye and letting go still aren’t my favorite things to do.

The anxiety stems from the fact that I have to start over at a different school and, like the 13-year-old girl I was a long time ago, the only important question on my mind is “what if they don’t like me?” I know it sounds a little immature but the fact that I might not fit in scares me quite a lot. And sure, everybody says not to worry… but I’ve never really listened well to reason. So I guess I’ll worry until I won’t have to worry anymore.

I am extremely excited about the teaching part of the job though! I’ll get a chance to do a lot more with English as a whole, work with actual literature, and basically really challenge my students and of course myself. Plus, the history teaching in English?! Holy shit, dream come true! Can’t wait to start with that, although I do have some reading up to do, my history knowledge has, ironically, gotten a little rusty :P This summer I’ll be spending a lot of my time reading all my history books, to make sure I don’t look like an idiot, and preparing lots and lots of cool assignments to do for my English classes.

I do think one of the best things about the new job is that I get to start fresh. There are so many things that I know that I can avoid this time around, and so many things that I want to start with from the get-go. I guess the good does outweigh the anxiety and on the moments it doesn’t I guess I’ll just distract myself with an interesting coursebook or something! to tell your story and let your visitors know a little more about you.

 

The tales of a young teacher - Being on a roll

This week has been a very good one indeed. I got a lot of things done, gave a couple of awesome lessons and on a whole I felt more myself this week than I have since the start of the schoolyear. I did a lot of fun things this week most of them thanks to Tatiana's webinar which I had the honor of hosting last Sunday. T

 

Tatiana spoke about 'minding the gap' and basically shared a ton of fun activities with us where there is some kind of information gap that students have to work with/around. Now I've of course seen Tatiana speak before so I knew the talk was going to be great and my expectations were definitely met. Her talk (although a little longer than intended) was vey informative and the entire audience walked away with loads of activities to try in their classrooms on Monday.

 

The first activity that Tatiana mentioned and that I thought was very interesting was a picture prompt where you take a picture of the internet, hide on element and then use the picture to elicit conversation from your students. First you let them talk about the element that is missing. Once the students have either guessed or the guessing has taken up 5 minutes you reveal the element to the class. You then give them several questions that you would like to have answered (the questions are ofcourse guided by the subject of the lesson) the students get time to answer the questions and then share their answers with the class. Although meant as an introduction exercise when I tried this I actually ended up filling a whole lesson. And it was very fun! The kids really loved the picture and eventually constructed an entire story around it, together, in English! It was one of those moments where as a teacher you can actually sit back and observe and admire the creativity of your students.

 

Another excellent excercise was using grids in the classroom. Tatiana had so many ideas for using grids that I lost count but the one that struck me as most interesting and most applicable to my classes was the Tic Tac Toe grid. You can use this for grammar or for vocabulary and how it works is that you hand your students a 3 by 3 grid filled with words. You tell them that they are going to play Tic Tac Toe. But in order for them to either circle or cross out a word they have to use that word in a correct English sentence. The first one to have three in a row wins. I thought this game was a delight to try out in class and a fun way to revise both grammar and vocabulary. I used it to revise the past simple and filled the grids with verbs. If the students could form a sentence with the verb in the past simple the could circle or cross out the word. As check I had them write down the sentences, quality control so to speak.

 

Pie charts were also mentioned and I absolutely adored this idea! It's really simple as well. You make a pie chart and put your name in the middle. Then, depending on the subject, you start filling your pie chart with drawings. The other person has to guess what the drawing are and what they mean to you. I tried this out in class with the subject food, and it was a smashing hit. It's a good way to get your students to talk and to engage with each other.

 

Another idea that I really want to try out but haven't gotten to yet is having students use a picture from their phone and compare that picture with somebody else's. It's a great way to use mobile phones in the classroom.

Something that I did this week that wasn't Tatiana inspired was having my students write list poems. I started out by dictating one and having them write it down. The next step was for them to repeat it back to me while one student wrote the poem on the board. We then discussed the topic of the poem and any difficult vocabulary and eventually they had to make their own list poem. It was really fun and they came up with some great stuff!

 

I've started posting pictures of all these classroom activities on my instagram:thetalesofayoungteacher1992. If you're interested you could always check it out. I'm going to try and upload as much as I can! Thank you all for taking the time out of your busy day to keep reading my blog! And I wish you all the best for what is left of this sunny weekend.

The tales of a young teacher - Thinking things through

Today's title is very broad as it applies to multiple things going on in my life right now.

 

First of, as I mentioned before I've been covering for a pregnant coworker and am therefore teaching 29 lessons a week. Which is a considerable amount... and combined with all the tasks that I also get paid for (mentoring, internationalisation coordinator, member of the PR team, guiding teacher trainees, etc.) it's a lot more than considerable. Suffice to say that these first three weeks of the schoolyear hit me hard and fast. I'm tired, I'm moody and I just can't get myself to stop crying at random times (and no I'm definitely not pregnant so shut up dad!) It's annoying and disheartening but I'm trying to be sanguine about it and to get through it as best I can. Which means that sometimes I go home earlier, skip the gym and go to bed early. Which I did yesterday, and it was glorious. The point of it all is that sometimes it's hard to oversee the consequences of your actions even if you think them through. Because before I agreed to extend my contract I thought about it a lot, and I believed that I could handle all the additional workload and responsibilities. But, as hard as it is to admit, I might (emphasis on might) have bit of a little bit more that I can chew.

 

My lessons themselves are actually the easiest to do and the amount of teaching I'm doing is definitely not what's causing me stress. Right now I'm kind of in a zone, teaching wise that is. Especially my English lessons, I've got my students writing and speaking and I've been using a lot of activities and lessonplans that I discovered during IATEFL or that I've got from books that I bought at IATEFL. However, sometimes, no matter how fun an exercise seems to be, it is wise to give a little thought about how you'll introduce said exercise to a class full of teenagers. For example today I tried out a writing exercise which I though was really cool. Students had to draw each other's hands on a piece of paper and then write down what their hands had done and felt in the last 24 hours. Cool right? I thought so, but unfortunately asking a class of teenagers to write down what their hands have done and felt in the last 24 hours is a recipe for a very sexually tinted disaster. God my ears are still burning and it's been a solid 10 hours. I obviously did not, for one second, put myself in the shoes of 20 randy teenagers which I should've done... Of course it was hilarious and the students loved the exercise, but any other class and I would've probably lost control very quickly.

 

However not thinking things through can also have very positive outcomes. This year I've started my exam students on the idea of journaling. I bought each of them their own notebook and told them to write in it for 10 minutes every lesson. I told them the subject did not matter and I would not correct what I read. I would only reply. And so my best idea ever happened without me ever realising that it was in fact, the best idea I've ever had. My students started out a little hesitant but by now they have enthusiastically embraced the journals. The first thing they ask me at the start of a lesson is if I've written back to them (which I do, every time, which is exhausting but worth the effort) and they are so happy to have me reply to their stories. It's surprising how much this exercise has helped me in my relationship with students. I feel like I know them better and like they're more comfortable around me. And without knowing they are writing English regularly as well as reading it (my replies tend to run on the long side) I implemented this idea thinking it would help them with writing (seeing as we are mostly working digitally) yet it has achieved so much more.

 

So, not thinking things through, thinking things through; in the end you can never truly predict how things are going to end up. You can have high expectations, or none at all, but you'll never know until it happens. You just have to accept that and roll with the punches so to speak. Before I leave you I just want to address the fact that I haven't been updating the blog as regularly as I've set out to. Which is due to the fact that I've been really busy. I will try to update at least once a week and to include some reviews on literature, webinars or videos about ELT. Hopefully the first one of these posts will make a reappearance next week as the Sundays with BELTA webinars are kicking of again with yours truly playing the role as host. So please join us next Sunday at 16:00 CEST! You can find the link to the upcoming webinar presented by Tatiana Shyyan below.

 

https://www.beltabelgium.com/tetiana-shyyan

The tales of a young teacher - New year resolutions

New year resolutions for teachers do not come into being on January 1st. No my dear readers, new year resolutions for teachers are made on September 1st, the start of the new school year. After 6 weeks of summer holiday, teachers are brimming with creative lesson plans, engaging activities and new ideas for ultimate class management domination. We have typed out our planners, purchased new pens and are roaring and ready to go.  

 

My new year resolutions you ask? Mine are the same they always are: engaging lessons, communicative activities, endless patience and understanding. However after two years of teaching I'm ready for some more challenges and so I've decided to add some new resolutions to the list. The first one is that I'm going to work really hard on the internationalisation program within my school. I've been made coordinator this year and I have a lot of ideas on how to get the ball rolling. My other resolution is to try and change the way English is being assessed at my school right now. I've been laying the groundwork for about a year and a half now but I think that it's time to take some bigger steps. My main focus will be to try and get rid of the awful vocabulary tests and to start formatively and summatively assess the productive and receptive skills. Another one of my resolutions is to make it to Christmas without one work related melt down... I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed on that one. 

 

When it comes to professional development I've also made some promises to myself that I intend to keep. The first is keeping my blog up to date; I really enjoy writing it and I feel that it's helped me a lot during these last couple of months. The second is that I'm going to actively contribute; meaning that I've send in two proposals to speak at conferences. The first one is TESOL France and it's already been accepted! I'm happy and incredibly scared at the same time. The second proposal has also already been sent out but this one to TESOL Greece for their annual conferenc in March. I'm hoping that that one will be accepted too. 

 

Many resolutions this year, I'll try my hardest to make them a reality. For now I wish all of you the best on this officially last weekend of the holidays. I'm off to bed early today, have to be up at 6 to catch the train to Antwerp for the first BELTA meeting of the new schoolyear! Can't wait.

 

The tales of a young teacher - The end of a schoolyear

If you are a teacher yourself the fact that the end of the schoolyear is the most busiest of all should not come as a surprise. If you aren't a teacher yet, jot this information down somewhere. The end of the schoolyear = mayhem.

 

Reportcards, graduation ceremonies, last minute meetings, school parties, excursions, lessonpreps for the coming schoolyear. Everything has to be done and preferably at once. The end of the schoolyear is a sprint; and once you've begun there's no stopping until the finish line. Which is why for the last couple of weeks you haven't heard that much from me. I was sprinting for my life and exhaustion had found a permanent home in my bones. Fortunately not only good things come to an end, the bad things do as well. And a big advantage of sprints? Super intensive while you're doing them but also over a lot quicker that you might've thought. So the sprint is now over, most (definitely not all) of my work is done and the only thing still on the agenda is an outing with my colleagues. Which just requires me to show up and stuff my face full of food. Two things I'm incredibly good at, so no hurdles there.

 

I don't think that the end of the schoolyear ever gets easier, but it does always contain a lot of highlights. One of mine was the graduation ceremony; this year my own mentor students all graduated. A 100% success rate, which is always a good boost for morale. We had a lovely ceremony, and I got to say goodbye to all of them. Two years of intense coaching and mentoring come to an end. I have to admit this was quite emotional for me. Even though they weren't always the easiest bunch, and I've envisioned throwing several of them out of the window, I do love them. Which sounds sappy and cliché, but for me it does ring true. I love my students: each and everyone of them is unique and to have coached them through the last two years, through their hardships and accomplishments has been such a great experience. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to them and I'm going to miss them a lot.

 

A big downside of the end of the year sprint is that it lacks structure. Many colleagues are tired and have finished all their work and so they decide to stop teaching their students. Instead they turn to old reliable Mr. TV. Movies, series, you name it, they watch it. This results in students who are rowdy and unfocused and who want nothing more than to be anywhere but school. For the couple of colleagues who still want to do something with their students this presents a problem. My job becomes a lot harder if all my colleagues have stopped teaching. I become the 'nagging' teacher, the unfriendly b*tch who denies the students their (in their eyes) well deserved movie time. Alas, I don't believe in watching movies in the last weeks of school, every other time? Sure, but watching a movie in the last week of school? To me that's kind of weak. I do projects instead; students have to work in groups and they don't need me except for the instruction and introduction in the beginning. It frees up my hands to do some necessary paperwork while still engaging the students and it lets them practice some much needed skills: research, cooperation, ICT skills, etc. If you are just starting out as a teacher my advice to you would be to do the same. Don't put on a movie, or let your students type away on their phones. It ruins their structure and motivitation and creates an unworkable environment for your colleagues. If you‘re already doing this but it's your coworkers who are ruining your chances of meaningful teaching, step up to the plate and confront them. Having a good conversation about this can alleviate a lot of the tension and resentment that might occur. If you aren't comfortable with direct confrontation, have a conversation with your teammanager, maybe they can offer a solution. Either way it's no good to bottle up the resentment; this will just lead to ugly fights or remarks.

 

The end of the schoolyear goes by quite quickly yet simultaniously it'll feel like eternity. This is a good moment to take a step back when it comes to other things; meaning that it's not a bad thing if you won’t make it to the gym, or if you've missed a birthday. These things happen and you shouldn't beat yourself up about it. It's all about protecting yourself. If however you get lots of energy by working out or having a lively social life, by all means do continue. Having something to distract you from work is definitely a plus. My point is that you should do what feels good and not let yourself be forced into doing things that don't feel comfortable or just aren't possible at that moment in time. Care for yourself, ask for help when you need it and take a step back if you have to. A marathon takes endurance, but a sprint? A sprint takes up all your energy, you have to give it everything you have to make it to the finish line. However once you've reached it, it will have all been worth it.

 

The tales of a young teacher - projects, projects, projects

 

Almere,

 

Sunday June 10th, 2018 

 

As the schoolyear draws to a close teachers, when they're lucky, get to a point where they run out of material to teach. It's that point in the year where you've finished all that you written down in this year's curriculum. Some teachers don't make it to this blissful point, they are still desperately trying to finish their planning and get all their grades in on time. Me? I belong to the first group, I've offically finished everything I was supposed to and all the grades are in, however there are still at least four weeks to go until summer vacation. Which begs the question: what to do until then? 

 

Some teachers at this point tend to go with the easiest option: they either spend all their remaining classes reviewing the entire year or pop in a movie (or browse through Netflix, this is the 21st century after all) and although I completely understand the reasoning behind these decisions, I must say that I think these precious weeks are better spend by broadening your students' and your own horizon. To me these weeks are a great oportunity to go beyond the curriculum, to explore the language together with your students in a challenging and exciting way. 

 

One of my first year classes is quite advanced and they're a delight to teach. After finishing the last chapter I made them look at the last chapter in the book which was not part of my originial planning. The chapter's theme is food, always an amazing topic to teach to be honest. I asked my students to look at the chapter, the vocabulary, the grammar and the exercises and come up with ideas about what kind of activities they wanted to do. All their ideas obviously had to be related to the chapter. By giving the students this assignment you are making them a part of the teaching process, you are including them in your lessonplanning and are trying to actively teach what they want to learn, something I think is very cool. Students often don't get any say in their class activities or in the subject matter which I think is a lost opportunity when it comes to differentiation or personalising education. 

 

The kids came up with a lot of ideas mostly revolving around cooking food themselves (which I saw coming from miles away) but other ideas included: a treasure hunt including food, researching how healthy some foods are, having a picnick, giving a presentation about favourite foods and making a cooking video. Fun ideas, even if not all of them appear to be educational at a first glance. I combined these ideas into what I called: Project Masterchef (I am not a giver of orginal names) In the first lesson after the initial assignment we discussed how a lot of countries have their own cuisine and signature dishes. I gave examples and the students added to these with their own. We talked about the signature dishes of the English speaking world and they were all able to come upwith things like: fish and chips, hot dogs, haggis and the likes. I then explained that there are many other countries in the world where English serves as the main spoken language. Countries in Africa or the Carribean, for example. When it came to these countries and their signature dishes the kids were stumped, they simple didn't know. Which is when I revealed what Project Masterchef would entail. All students will work together in pairs, each pair receives the name of a country where English it the main spoken language. Countries like Ghana, Puerto Rico, Jaimaica, Singapore, etc. The students will research the cuisine of their country and pick one dish that they think looks interesting or tasty. They have to find a lot of information on this dish and write a report that contains: the history of the dish, it's nutritional value, any international variations of the dish, and the traditional recipe. 

 

Writing the report is step one, for step two the students have to create a shopping list for their recipe complete with prices and hand these in and then when all the ingredients have been bought they will have to actually prepare their dishes. They will do this in the way of a cooking competition. They'll get 100 minutes to prepare their dish and at the end all the dishes will be served to and tasted by a jury and the best dish will win a price. I intend to gather all my students' recipes to create a little cookbook of sorts, of which each student will receive a copy as a keepsake. 

 

The project will take up to two weeks to complete and it requires me to work together with two other colleagues to make it happen. For the students it means that they have to research (ICT skills), write a report and ofcourse cook. During the project they will be introduced to a lot of new vocabulary and they'll have to work together quite closely. It's a project that mostly takes place outside of the traditional English classroom (these kinds of projects are always my favourite) and forces the students to use the language in ways they never have before. 

 

I think the power of these projects lies in the fact that it transcends the subject of English. Because English itself is not the goal, they don't have to study any vocabulary or grammar, they don't have a test on anything containing the language. English is simply the language in which the project takes place, it's a means to an end. Which kind of tricks the students into thinking they aren't actually doing English, while in reality, they are reading, writing, listening and speaking! (writing the report, looking at youtube videos to see how the dish is made, reading the recipes and speaking in the kitchen) Also projects are just a lot of fun, the students are motivated by the competitive element, they enjoy getting to know more about different cultures and they get to cook and eventually eat the products of their labour. Honestly? It's a win all around. 

 

I'm really excited about this project and I promise to keep you updated as it progresses! If any of you have done projects like this before I would love to know more about it! So send me a message through Facebook, Twitter or my blog page if you'd like to share! 

The tales of a young teacher - Improvisation

Almere,

 

Sunday 20th May 2018,  

 

During teacher training you are taught to always have a well written lesson plan, without one you can't teach, or in some cases aren't even allowed to. Once you officially start teaching the lesson plans are the first thing to go. Or at least that's what happened to me. It's not that I stopped preparing my lessons, but I did stop writing down every action, every word and every imaginary student response. Instead of writing a full blown lesson plan, I wrote a list: What? When? How? Those are the only three questions I try to answer before every lesson: What am I going to teach? When am I going to teach it? How am I going to do it? Three questions, that's it. 

 

Now I'm sure you've heard the saying about the best laid out plans.. they often go awry, and so, as a teacher, no matter if you're using a full blown lesson plan or a simple list, you should always be prepared for things to go wrong. You should always be ready and able to improvise. There's a wide array of things that could go wrong before or during a class. Students might've gotten in a fight during the break and the class is restless and distracted, it might be very hot outside and you're teaching the last period of the day, the Ipads you needed for you class aren't working. Truly, the options are endless, but they usually result in the same thing: you can't teach your lesson at all, or not the way you wanted to. 

 

This week I had to improvise a lot, not because of anything to do with my students, unfortunately it had everything to do with me. My fourth year students had exams and I spent all week supervising the exams and trying to keep them (and their parents) from going ballistic (I was not succesful), anyway this meant that I did the bare minimum for my lesson and I ended up improvising a lot. I'd like to share two of the things I did below. 

 

1) Improv research assignment: my second years had to start a new chapter and I often start these with a bang. Treasure hunts, quizzes, communicative assignments, those are kind of standard for me, but not this time. I didn't have time to go all out and so I decided (pretty much 5 minutes before the start of class) to let the students do their own research. The chapter was all about America (it was called Stars and Stripes) and I simply wrote down 8 to 10 questions on the whiteboard that I wanted them to find an answer to. They could use their Ipads to write down their answers. Some of the questions were simple facts, for others they had to find appropriate pictures or talk to a classmate. After the research assignment I asked them what they thought the chapter was going to be about and I gave a little background information on America. I used the answers to their research assignment in a later class to see how much they remembered. The assignment was pretty straight forward and easy, the students liked it because they were allowed to scour the internet and talk to each other instead of listening to me. 

 

2) ABC videos - I teach two hours of English to a small group of first year students who are currently failing it. They come from different classes and levels and so teaching them can sometimes be a challenge. They all have different English teachers (only two of the students are actually in my normal English class) and they’re studying different chapters in the book. I had prepared a couple of games for them during one of the last lessons before the break and I wanted to start the lesson of with a short game of hangman. Imagine my surprise when I found out that 80 percent of the students didn't know the English alphabet... Not only was I a little appalled (I had strong words with my fellow English teachers) but it also kinda threw me for a loop; the idea of playing games for which they needed to spell words seemed kind of stupid if they didn't know the correct way of pronouncing the English alphabet. Luckily Sesame Street turned out to be my saving grace. We watched the video where Usher practices the ABC and then I asked my students to make their own ABC video. For each letter they had to find a word that started with it and pronounce both the letter and the word correctly on video. When the videos were done I looked at them and wrote down their mistakes, they then had to watch the Usher video again and listen specifically to the letter they got wrong in their own video. I was quite proud of this one, especially because I came up with it on the spot. The activity was easy to do for all my students and I could differentiate by telling the students with a slightly higher level of English to find more difficult words to go with the letters of the alphabet. The students also practiced with pronunciation and they got a little bit more comfortable with speaking English aloud and listening to the sound of their own voice. 

 

Both of these activities had the technology component in common. It was easy to improvise because my students could use their phones or Ipad and, in case of the first activity, had access to the inernet.

 

Technological devices are a great tool for improvisation, their standard abilities (internet, voice recording, camera) make them very usefull and allow for many different ways of application within the classroom. Even though I've said before that technology isn't always my best friend when it comes to teaching, I do know how to appreciate its usefullness. And this week technology really saved my lessons. 

 

My tip to you is to think about this when you find yourself in a position where you have to improvise. Is their anything educational that your students can achieve with a camera, a voice recorder or with internet access? The answer to that question is almost always yes, in which case you should definitely use these tools to improvise. Why make your life harder than it already is? These tools are ready and available without a moment's notice. So my advice to you is to use them! 

The tales of a young teacher - A reflection: the aims of teaching a language

Almere,

 

Friday May 11, 2018 

 

Another day another BELTA post, it’s going to be the last one, but I did want to take some time and reflect upon the lovely plenary sessions given by Scott Thornbury. The first was called “Is language a countable noun?” and the second was “Fluency and how to achieve it” both talks were very good, and certainly food for thought. I’d like to discuss a couple of things that jumped out at me and got me thinking.

 

What I really took away from the first session on “Is language a countable noun” is that the way we teach languages right now ensures that the subject itself is very boxed in. Meaning that there is little overlap between the different languages taught at school and, that the language we are teaching is closely related to the nationality and identity of the country from which it originates. Scott points out that this is actually a damaging thing because language is a very fluid concept, thanks to globalization, more and more languages start to show overlap and phrases and words from other languages are easily incorporated into the original language thanks to things like social media and of course the insane amount of traveling we do nowadays. The fact that we have such a narrow view on what a language is or should be also leads to several  (mis)conceptions when teaching languages. For example, the idea that L1 does not have any place in the classroom or the fact that we separate the different language courses so extremely. Another definite misconception is the “native speakers are better than non-native speakers” debate, something that I, as a non-native speaker, feel very strongly about. All in all, Scott really made us think about the way we teach languages and if we really shouldn’t just teach 'language' instead. Scott argues that we should aim to make our students fluent communicators and teach them all the different speaking strategies instead of focusing only on teaching the language itself.

 

The second plenary session was about fluency and how to achieve it, this of course, from a teacher’s point of view. Fluency is one of the most difficult things to assess because it’s a very subjective subject. Everybody perceives fluency as something else, something very personal, therefor assessing it in your students can be a very daunting task, even if you use a painstakingly composed set of criteria. Scott’s talk was amazingly interesting, and I literally forgot to take notes because I was too busy listening. Which means that a lot of the details have already disappeared into the fog that is my memory. However, there was one point I remember very clearly and that is that when it comes to communicating and fluency most teachers find it very important that the meaning comes across while most non-specialists will listen to pronunciation, grammar and rate. For a non-specialist the language just has to sound as good as possible with as few mistakes as possible. While teachers just want their students to make themselves understandable.

 

Scott’s own definition of fluency is “the ability to make use of idiomatic language in real time” which shows whether the students can use some of the intricacies of the language. Now at first, I found myself disagreeing, I truly think that if a student can get his/her meaning across, idiomatic language or not, that should be enough. And then I realized that my point is very valid but getting one's meaning across is not the same as being fluent in a language. Fluency means that you can comprehend and use the language is a natural way, it doesn’t mean no mistakes, but it does go further than simply getting your meaning across. What I took away most from this session is that my own idea on what fluency is, was a bit blurry and thanks to this session it isn't any longer, which is a good thing. So, thank you Scott!

 

Scott’s plenary sessions made me think more about what my aim should be when teaching my students English and it made me think on how exactly I can best achieve it. The idea of still using L1 in the classroom is something I have been always taught to shy away from, but it’s a point of contention I’ve been hearing a lot more lately. It seems that the point of view on this subject is rapidly changing among the many experts within our field. Something else that was reinforced by Scott's talks was the idea of teaching students to communicate, rather than teaching them the different grammatical structures of the language. This is something I’ve said and thought for a long time and something I'm still hoping of convincing my colleagues of. Grammar is something that should come last when it comes to teaching students a second language. The aim should be to make them communicators, to ensure that they can use the language to get their meaning across. Only when this baseline is established should we worry about teaching them to be fluent. 

The tales of a young teacher - Professional development, why should you bother?

A couple of my wonderful BELTA boardmembers and I while working on filling our conference bags.

Brussels, 

 

Friday 4th May 2018,

 

After a lot of anticipation and preparation the moment has finally arrived: BELTA day is here. As in it’s starting in 8 hours and I should be asleep but am not because I’ve had too many Iced teas during dinner and am currently on a sugar high.

 

Now BELTA is an organisation close to my heart, I got involved during college and am now a board member. It’s a great organisation filled with wonderful people and it’s what inspired me to set up this blog and to actively work on my professional development. Still I know that many people will wonder ‘why?’ Why spend so much time on educating yourself further if one, you are pretty much fresh out of school and two, you already have so little time. The answer consists, as it always does, of multiple arguments. 

 

First of, as a teacher we tell our students that you should never stop learning. Yet a lot of teachers ignore their own advice. Professional development is something they either experience as a mandatory necessity or as something they sometimes casually do. But I believe that as an educator you should always actively try to learn more and be better. Education is a field filled with change, changes that are going so fast it’s hard to keep up. If you ignore your professional development you may soon find yourself to be outdated. 

 

Secondly, it should be noted that working on their professional development helps teachers with staying motivated. Learning and experiencing new things is something every teacher should enjoy. Not only does it help with thinking of new ideas, knowing that you are not alone inspires confidence and will get you through some of the more difficult times.

 

Next to your own personal development as a teacher another important part of professional development is the networking you do. By watching webinars and going to conferences you will meet extraordinary people. Other teachers who have so much to say and so much to share with you. Not only is it great to compare stories and experiences, it’s also a lot of fun just to get to know all these amazing people! These contacts will not only enhance your teaching, they will also help you gain a lot of new friends. 

 

Starting out as a teacher it’s difficult to keep up with all the developments within the field. It’s hard to hit the books, scour the web or to find energy (and resources) to go out to conferences and workshops. Still it’s something that you should try to do. I’m not saying you should do everything: start out small, watch one webinar or read a short article. Maybe don’t go to every conference but pick just one every year. Just work on it and try to encourage your colleagues to do the same. It’s good for your teaching, it’s good for your networking skills and it’s good for you as a person. It will help with your inspiration but it will also help to know that you aren’t alone. There are a lot of people out there who share your experiences or who suppport your ideas. But you have to go out and find them! 

The tales of a young teacher - On the production of language and the different ways to do so.

One of the quotes I used for my first activity. Really ties together with my remarks at the end of this post!

Almere,

 

Sunday 29th April 2018, 

 

My last post connected to the IATEFL conference. It’s a bit late this week because we started our May vacation on Thursday and I spent my time on Friday lying on the couch with the grace of a sack of potatoes.

 

This week I focused on productive skills with my lower year students. The first activity I did was a writing activity that I got from Djalal Tebib’s IATEFL session (mentioned in my previous posts) this activity has students writing quotes in stead of longer texts. The reasoning behind this is that writing a quote is easier than writing a longer piece of text. A quote is usually only one or two sentences long. However, writing quotes does require your students to practice some higher thinking skills.

 

I started the lesson by reviewing some famous sayings, proverbs and quotes. Some of them that were known by my students and some which they were unfamiliar with. We then tried to pin down the difference between a quote and a saying. Afterwards we brainstormed about a certain theme the students would write quotes about. We ended up with the theme ‘love’. I told the students to work in pairs and brainstorm on this theme. Which words or concepts are associated with it? Are there any quotes about this theme that you already know? After the brainstorm we discussed the given answers in class. The last part of the lesson (15 minutes) was spent on having the students write their own quotes. When all the students were finished I read some of them to the class. The best quote was chosen to hang on the wall of the classroom.

 

I thought the activity was a lot of fun and my students seemed to like it as well. Although technically a writing lesson, the students didn’t quite perceive it as one. Normally when writing is the goal they tend to lose their enthusiasm but that didn’t really happen this time. Maybe because what they had to write wasn’t all that long or maybe because they didn’t really think it counted as a real writing assignment. Whatever it was I took it as a win. The quotes I got were quite good and because they were only two or three sentences long it was easier to give the students feedback on their grammar right on the spot. The students really thought about what they were writing and used a lot of vocabulary during both the brainstorming and the writing process. All in all, a good lesson and something I’m willing to repeat in other classes.

 

The second activity I did was a speaking activity, one I’ve alluded to once before in a different post on leaving the classroom behind. This activity revolved around teaching the students how to give and follow directions. I did this activity in the gym, instead of in my classroom. This because I built a (highly inaccurate) miniature version of London for my students to walk through. The setup is quite easy even though it takes some time to set up. To start off, you review some needed vocabulary with your students for which I used a simple PowerPoint. Think about words like ‘roundabout’, ‘traffic lights’, ‘crossroads’ etc. Afterwards I took the students to the gym and I divided them into teams. Each team consisted of two people, they had to take turns guiding each other through the city ‘parkour’. I, as the teacher, told person A where person B had to get to, and person A would give person B the correct directions. If the team made a mistake, either by giving a wrong direction, reverting to Dutch or incorrectly follow a direction, the team would not get any points.

 

I did this activity last year and it was a huge hit with my students. This year wasn’t any different. Not only do my kids love to leave the classroom they were also very excited about the practical assignment. Having the parkour made the assignment real to them and it added an element of credibility. It was way more engaging than a simple role play in which one student asks another one for directions to a fictional supermarket.

 

By dividing the class into teams, I made sure that the entire class could observe each other while doing the assignment. This gave them the opportunity to observe, listen to and learn from their fellow classmates. I also ensured their participation by asking them questions about the other teams’ performances.

 

The two activities I did this week have very little in common, yet both appealed to my students for different reasons. The first activity was more theoretical but presented in a way that made the students feel the task was achievable for everyone. By having them write only one or two sentences they didn’t get discouraged and it allowed me to give them practical feedback on their writing on the spot. The second activity was very practical, the students got to move around and engage with each other in the target language. By dividing the class into teams, I added a competitive element but also allowed students to learn from each other’s mistakes.

Now that last part is very important and deserves a bit more thought. You see, students tend to dislike speaking and writing assignments because it means using the target language and therefore, in their eyes, means making mistakes, which they hate. It's our job to ensure our students that these mistakes are natural and are in fact a good thing. You can't learn anything without making mistakes, that's just a fact. Nobody suddenly just knows how to correctly speak a different language. If you can convince your students that making mistakes is okay you will have an easier time getting them to participate in these activities. 

 

To close of, I think it was a pretty good week in terms of new activities and I hope I’ll continue this trend after the break. Don’t be afraid though, I have plenty of things to write about in the coming weeks, even if I'm not teaching. Especially with BELTA day on the horizon! 

The tales of a young teacher - Failing, a fact of life and a fact of teaching

Almere, 

 

Friday 20th April 2018

 

So as promised I’ll talk about some activities that I learned at the IATEFL conference and that I’ve tried out in my lessons. So far, I’ve managed to implement 2 activities which is less than I wanted but sometimes even though you’ve planned everything meticulously, your lessons will still not go the way you want to. It’s an unfortunate fact of the teaching life.

 

Moving on; the two activities that I did were adding an unusual time constraint (taken from Edmund Dudley’s session) and music assisted reading (taken from Djalal Tebib’s session) I’ve explained both of the activities in my previous post.

I did both activities in the same class and where the first was a whopping success the second was an equally whopping disaster. Let me paint you a picture:

 

The first activity was one I did during my first lesson of the week to this particular class. It was on a Monday during the fourth period and the atmosphere in the class was quite peaceful. The students responded very well to the activity. The exact time limit they had to adhere to was something that inspired a lot of questions and a general buzz throughout the classroom.  I had the students write about their experiences during their internship. We brainstormed some of the questions they could try to answer in their assignment and then I gave them 8 minutes and 26 seconds to write it. When the time was up I collected the assignments and redistributed them. The students now had to correct each other’s assignments as best they could. For this they had about 9 minutes and 2 seconds. This was followed by a third round of rewriting their original texts, considering the corrections of their fellow students. I finished the lesson by going over some of the most commonly made mistakes “My internship by the florist” “I learned a lot on making bouquets” and had students take notes.

 

The lesson was very well received. My students were quite enthusiastic about the assignment, they loved the alternative timing and they really felt that writing for 8 minutes and 26 seconds was easier than writing a certain amount of words or writing for a longer period. By dividing the assignment up in phases and having each phase take a very specific amount of time their motivation was higher than it normally is when doing writing assignments. I was extremely happy with myself, my students and the activity at the end of class. I complimented them, patted myself on the back and bragged about my success to anyone who would listen.

 

The second activity I did was the music assisted reading. It took place in the same class on a Wednesday during the second period. The students were not particularly rowdy when they came in. You could even say that the atmosphere was quite similar to the previous lesson.

 

However, this activity wasn’t received well at all. I started the lesson by introducing HONY, I told the students about the Facebook initiative and how it got started, we scrolled through the Facebook page together and looked at some of the stories. Eventually we read three stories together in a regular way. For each story we established the topic and the feeling behind it. I then introduced the idea of playing music while reading and asked the students to give it a try.

 

From the moment I turned on the music I lost about 60% of my class. The students started to giggle, they were distracted and hyped up. They couldn’t focus on the task at hand at all. I tried to intervene, stopped the music, explained the purpose of the assignment and demonstrated the effect of reading accompanied by music by reading one of the texts myself. Yet all these things didn’t matter in the end. The students couldn’t take the assignment seriously and eventually I had to call the time of death. It was incredibly frustrating, and I was very disappointed. Something I told them, which seemed to have little effect on them to be honest. This was one activity I did not brag about during the coffee break.

 

So? What conclusion to draw from this? Where did it go wrong? What did I do wrong? And more importantly how can I fix the problem? Lots of questions, let’s see if I can answer them. After some critical reflection I concluded that one of the differences between the activities was the way of working. In which I mean that for the first activity students had to work individually while the second activity was set up as a general class activity.

 

Now the class I teach is a lot of things, but they are in no way a cohesive social unit. Quite the opposite really, the group is quite fragmented and there’s a lot of strife between the students, something that doesn’t help when they have to do an activity where they have to listen to- and wait for each other. Another difference was the subject matter of the activities. The first activity had a direct link to their lives; it was about their own experiences during their internship. The second activity contained, what I believed to be authentic material, but my students felt little to no connection to it, which lowered their interest and motivation.

 

Another obvious difference that has to be taken into account is the writing vs. reading. The first activity was productive and the second one focused on a receptive skill. This class seems to have a big preference for producing language individually as opposed to just receiving a lot of information.

 

Now how come I didn’t take these difference into consideration and have a back up plan? I have to admit after the first successful activity I became a little overconfident. It was such a big hit and I experienced it as a great success and as such I didn’t take enough time to truly think the second activity through. I should’ve thought about the group dynamic as well as their learning preferences and I should’ve tried to adapt the activity to their interests and needs. But I didn’t, and I paid the price for that.

 

I experience failure in these kinds of endeavors as an amazingly frustrating thing. I could potentially beat myself up about this for weeks to come. However, failing or having things not work out the way you want them to can be quite valuable. It really confronts you with the number 1 rule when preparing a lesson: the activity needs to be adapted to its audience.

 

As I say you live to learn and this was a valuable experience because it reminded me that your activity can be as fun, interesting and adventurous as possible but if you don’t think it through properly you will not get the results you are hoping and aiming for. Don’t do activities just because they are fun and sound exciting, make sure the activity fits your students, your lessons and your teaching style. That’s the only way it’s going to work.

 

But when something doesn’t work out the way you want to? Don’t sweat it. Failure is a fact of life, and this holds true to teaching as well. Sometimes your ideas won’t work, sometimes it just doesn’t go as planned. Well you know what they say: when you fall, you get up, dust yourself of and try again. 

The tales of a young teacher - IATEFL highlights

Because I was too lazy to write it all down, here's my first (and probably only) vlog. Enjoy!

The tales of a young teacher -Assessing assessment part 1

Almere,

 

Friday 5th April 2018

 

As you may remember I’m smack dab in the middle of oral exams; for the past 5 days (excluding the Easter weekend) I’ve done nothing but listen to my students trying to express themselves in English. There were some highs and there were some lows and I’m very glad it’s over. The whole experience did get me thinking about how we assess our students’ speaking abilities though, and I’d like to share some of these thoughts with you.

 

I think assessment is one of the most difficult things there is, and it was a subject I struggled with a lot during teacher training. Formative versus summative assessment, designing assessment tools, exactly what components to assess; assessing your students can be quite a complicated process, it’s something you need to think through very carefully.  And therefore, it really isn’t one of my strong suits.

 

Part of my reluctance when it comes to assessment stems from the fact that I disagree with the practice of grading everything our students do. Formative assessment is nice term, but you don’t often encounter it in the everyday classroom. Part of this is because teachers need grades to show to their bosses, their students and more importantly their students’ parents. The grades are meant to convey whether the students will be able to move on to the next form or whether they will have to redo the year. Apparently, your students, their parents and your bosses do not trust you enough to make this call; it’s the grades that are the deciding factor. I believe that this blind trust in grades is a very bad thing; students are more than their grades; motivation, work ethic and enthusiasm are also part of a student and I think they should play a role when we talk about passing or failing them. A student that’s weaker on a cognitive level but who’s a hard worker willing to make sacrifices to perform better in school is worth more that a slacker who just happens to be good at taking tests and who’s actually performing below his/her level. Why reward the latter and punish the former? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

 

Another thing I hate about assessment is the claim of objectivity. I think it’s completely ludicrous. This because I feel it’s an impossibility: I don’t think anybody can be completely objective. We are all colored by our pasts, by our experiences and by our knowledge of the people we are assessing. I really don’t believe it’s possible for the human mind to be completely objective. When you are assessing someone you’ll never do it based solely on the actual skills or requirements needed for the assignment. You consider what you already know about this person, about their effort in your classes, about their work ethics and about their motivation. And even if you take these aspects into account in your assessment rubric (ten points for motivation for example) it’s still your take, your way of seeing and experiencing these things. How is that objective? Somebody you believe to be a slacker, might’ve put in a lot of work but maybe he wasn’t very obvious about it because he doesn’t want to be perceived as an overachiever by his peers. Another example might be that you believe a student you have a personal connection with to have more motivation and enthusiasm than he actually does. Your ideas and impressions of people color your assessment, which is just human nature and therefor unavoidable. But don’t pretend it doesn’t happen; people who deny their subjectivity and who remain confident of their objectivity are often so concerned with being objective that it becomes their only concern. They don’t assess the students appropriately because they are so concerned with being perceived as being subjective and thus bypass their purpose entirely.

 

My last coherent thought on assessment for today is the ‘unattainable ten’. I’ve noticed that a lot of language teachers believe that giving students a perfect score is an impossibility, this because nobody can use a language perfectly. “Even I make mistakes” they say. And well duh.. obviously, you make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes, even native speakers (don’t deny it my friends), but that doesn’t mean getting a perfect score is an impossibility. Why even have a ten on your grading scale if you’re never going to use it? Why taunt your students with the possibility of a ten if you know that the possibility doesn’t exist? It’s such a weird thing to do. For one of our oral exams we gave a ten. One of the students did an amazing job, her language was outstanding for her level, a definite B2 while she’s required to be at A2/B1. She made like one or two grammar mistakes. I was blown away and so was my colleague but still his first response was “Well she’s made those mistakes and so it can’t be a ten”.

 

I was taken aback by this comment and when we discussed it we finally agreed to give her the score after all. This because to me, getting a ten means you’ve exceeded the expectations; you’re functioning way above the level that’s required of you. Naturally, there’s room for growth, there always is; a ten doesn’t mean that you’re perfect. It means that you’ve grown beyond the original assessment goals and will have to be given challenges of a higher level.

 

I’m going to leave it at this for now. I think these are smart thoughts. I might get back to this post tomorrow to double check though. I am exhausted, and I think all these words might sound better in my head than they do out loud. However, I will be revisiting this subject at a later time because I have many other thoughts I would still like to share.

The tales of a young teacher - Colleagues, can't live with them, defenitely won't survive without them

Almere,

 

Friday 30th March 2018 

 

Usually these posts are meant to talk about a new activity I used during my lessons, unfortunately I barely taught any classes this weeks thanks to a combination of exams, holidays, and a whole lot of random tests our students must take every once in a while. So, the lessons I did teach were focused on catching up and I didn’t have the time to explore something new. However, I decided to still write a post but today it’s going to be about a whole different subject: colleagues. 

 

Colleagues are the people who you see most in your life. Think about it, most people start working at 16, maybe even a little before that, I myself started at 11 as a papergirl and I haven’t been unemployed since. Since I started working full time I see my colleagues more than I see my boyfriend, family or friends. Getting along with your colleagues is pretty important no matter what your job is, but as a teacher? Well, it’s crucial that you have a couple of colleagues who you really click with.

 

I can hear you asking why and I’ll happily tell you but before I do that let me give you some background on how I perceive the concept of ‘working together’. I suck at it. Period. Now, people who’ve met me will tell you that’s absurd. They love working with me, however if you work with me it’s never a partnership, that’s because I’m too neurotic to entrust things to other people. When it comes to working in groups or pairs? I will do the lion share of the work; lots of people admire that, but that’s because they don’t know I only do it because I don’t trust them to do it the way I want. It’s the cold hard truth; I get it from my mother.

 

Now, I don’t necessarily think this trait is a bad thing, but when working with other people, and especially teachers; ehh it can get a little dicey. Like, co-teaching for example …. God how I hate that. When I teach, I want to be in charge and I want to make the decisions. Having another teacher there is aggravating and I’m extremely bad at sharing the spotlight. One of my friends from school, whenever we had to teach or present together, even came up with a system to prevent me from talking too much and taking over. Essentially, she’d just subtly hit me, hard, whenever she could get away with it; which was often, she was very sneaky, but I digress. My point is that I don’t really play well with others, I like working on my own. I can set the pace, I can make the decisions and if something goes wrong, well the only person who has to deal with the fall out is me.

 

But even though as a teacher you often work alone you are still confronted with your colleagues. You have sections in which you are paired up with all the other teachers who teach your subject. You have team meetings and ‘action groups’, you have activities that take place throughout the schoolyear and that you have to organize with the help of your colleagues. One way or another, as a teacher you need to know how to work together. And it’s of utmost importance that you have colleagues that you can work with. Colleagues that understand your quirks, your abilities but also your limitations. And colleagues that you can talk to or bitch at when the occasion calls for it. A buddy at work, who doesn’t necessarily need to be your closest friend; but still needs to be more than just a person you share oxygen with.

Teaching is an emotionally draining job that can take a lot out of you. Having people around to catch you when you slip up or offer you a shoulder to cry and/or lean on when you’re down is very important. Those colleagues keep you sane. Of course, you’ll have support from all the people that you love but it’s your colleagues who can truly relate to your situation and who are best equipped to deal with the emotional fallout.

 

A good example of why having a solid relationship with your fellow colleagues is important is what I like to call the ‘parent trap’, not in any way related to one of the most awesome movies ever made. Because you’re dealing with children and, in my case, teenagers, students will often try to ‘parent trap’ you in the sense that they, when refused by you (parent number one), will try to get their way by appealing to one of your colleagues (the other parent) hence a parent trap. In order to avoid this and to make sure to be consistent when dealing with students you need to have a good working relationship with your fellow teachers.

 

It’s essential, when starting a new job, to make contact as soon as possible. Most teachers are outgoing people, so it shouldn’t be a problem. If you are shy, try and work up to the main event. If you’re afraid of striking up a conversation out of the blue, just start sitting with people at lunch at first to kinda get the lay of the land.

 

I do believe it’s important that when you try to build up a relationship with your coworkers you should try and talk about things that aren’t related to work. Because work is the one common denominator it’s obviously a hot topic, you can talk about students, bitch about your bosses and complain about the growing workload however, it’s way better to find moments to talk about completely different things. Talk about shows, movies, weekend plans, books, anything but work really. This will help to get to know the person behind the teacher. It will also, in some cases, make it easier to work with people if you know who they are and how they tick.

 

I for one am a very lucky person; I’m still on my first job and I came into a school filled with amazing people. My colleagues, although they all have their quirks, are pretty damn awesome and with the risk of sounding awfully cliché it does feel like we’re a kind of (dysfunctional) family. Not only do my colleagues inspire me, they often give me the strength to get through the day. A shoulder to cry on, words of advice or a basketball to the face (long story) my colleagues have my back; I can count on them and they, in turn, can count on me.

 

 In conclusion: colleagues are important, you see them more than your own family and so you should make an effort to get to know them. Try to find colleagues that click, people you can relate to and whom you get along with. When building a relationship with your colleagues make an effort to avoid work talk. Don’t mention students, the long hours or the amount of correction work still waiting for you; talk about your interests and experiences, get to know each other as people, not just as colleagues. As a teacher you need a solid safety net around you, and colleagues are an important part of that safety net. But like any other relationship in your life you have to work on it and make an effort. 

The tales of a young teacher - Leaving the classroom behind

Tiny version of London in our gym. A great way to have the students practice giving directions!

Antwerp, 

 

Friday 23rd March 2018,

 

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve started this blog and I have returned to the place where it started. Tomorrow is my second meeting as a BELTA board member so, I am once again holed up in a hotel room. Today I’d like to talk about teaching outside of the classroom, someting that I think is absolutely amazing but can be quite daunting if you don’t know how to go about it. 

 

Now, leaving the four walls of your classroom behind is something that can be a huge motivator for your students. It’s an immediate energizer; students love going outside, especially because they think they can slack of. Of course, this is not what you as a teacher want to achieve but it doesn‘t hurt to let them have this illusion. They’ll soon realize the truth; leaving the classroom, when done right, actually really helps their learning process. 

 

The question is, what exactly will I do outside? The answer is simple: anything you want! Did you just teach grammar? Why not take the students outside and play a game to reinforce the principles you taught them? A game of charades to practice the present continuous for example; it’s fun, educational and you could easily do it on your school’s playground. Teaching a chapter on giving directions? Set up an obstacle course and have them guide each other through it, you can do this on the playground or in the gymnasium, it doesn’t really matter. The options are limitless and believe me, your students will love it!

 

There are multiple benefits to leaving your classroom behind. The first one is the great motivational factor. Students will pay attention simply because you are changing their daily routine. It will make them sit up and take notice as well as motivate them to do better in your classes in the hopes of leaving their hated four walls behind. Another benefit is that, if done more often, leaving the classroom will stimulate the students to equate English to something that can also be used in other aspects of their lives. English becomes something more than just a school thing; by leaving the classroom and using the language in a multitude of interesting and fun activities the students will stop seeing it as something they have to do, and more as something that they like to do. Last but not least is of course the benefit to you as a teacher; not only is it a change for the students, it’s also a breath of fresh air for you. You get a chance to leave the confines of the book and the classroom behind and engage the students in a whole different way.

 

I won’t deny that leaving the safety of those four walls can be a challenge. You need to be secure in your position and you need to be sure you are able to control your students adequately. By taking them outside you change their routine, which is a good thing but can also be disruptive. Some students will take it as a challenge and see if they can’t break some of the rules you have painstakingly set up. You need to be aware of this risk and plan accordingly, have contingency plans in place for when students don’t listen or are actively trying to undermine you. If you plan for this, you’ll be ready to deal with it swiftly and your students will simply see it as another reminder of what they already know: you are the boss.

 

When it comes to teaching outside the classroom I believe that the rewards far outweigh the risks. You shouldn’t let fear stop you from taking the leap but, you also shouldn’t jump in head first. Plan and prepare the activities you want to do outside of the classroom, go over some ground rules with your students and then go for it. Your students will love and appreciate you for it and these activities will become the highlights of your lessons! 

The tales of a young teacher - How to start a new chapter?

Almere,

 

Friday 16th March 2018, 

 

This week I had to start a new chapter with my students. Which is always my favourite thing to do. It's one of the few times I can break away from the method completely and do my own thing without having to worry. This time I decided to organise a tournament for my class consisting of three rounds. 

 

Now this particular class contains 26 students. For most people this sounds like an average number but in my school we usually work with smaller numbers (around 16) which is also something I'm used to from my teacher training days. Classes in Belgium usually don't go beyond 22 students. This class is also very noisy, and they are easily distracted. Like 'is that a fly?!' kind of distracted; teaching grammar is a delight.... not.

 

Anyways this class isn't my favourite; and because I'm only human I have the tendency to avoid doing anything overly complicated or anything truly fun with them because every time I do I get discouraged by the amount of work it takes me to keep them quiet and on task. However, because I've been trying to change my ways and become a better teacher I figured I should put the same amount of effort into all my classes; so, of I went.  

I started the tournament with a QR treasure hunt. You can make these yourself by going to

www.classtools.net where you can find a great site to use. You can add as many questions as you like, and you can use the site to convert all the questions into separate QR codes which I printed and then hid throughout the school.

 

Before classes started I had already divided the class into teams (saves you a lot of hassle and in-class time) and told them what they had to do. Each team needed a mobile device with a QR scanner app; something they all already had thanks to my awesome colleague who teaches German and uses this app quite frequently. When the class was divided, and every team had a mobile device I set the clock, the teams had 20 minutes to find and answer all the questions. First team back with the correct answers would be the winner of the first round. 

 

The whole thing went off without a hitch and the students enjoyed it very much. They are, as I mentioned, a class with a high energy level and so the chance to burn of some excess energy was highly appreciated. When all the students returned I announced the winner and we reviewed the questioned that were asked on the treasure hunt. I then asked the students what they thought the theme of the new chapter was (shopping) and that led us neatly to our next part of the tournament. 

 

For the second round I showed them the video clip of the song thrift shop by Macklemore. The teams had to write down as many pieces of clothing that they recognized; in English of course! This was a great way to find out how much vocabulary they already possessed on the subject. Each correctly named piece of clothing was worth a point. Which made the competition heat up.

 

Afterwards I adjusted the scores of all the teams and reviewed some of the tougher words with the entire class. 

After round two I gave my students a short break and then continued with the third and final round; a category game consisting of five rounds. In each round the teams had 1 minute to write down as many words as they could that had something to do with the category that I gave them. The categories I chose were clothing, jobs in retail, accessories, kinds of shops and verbs to do with shopping. Every round there would be one winning team (the one with the most correct words) and that team would get 5 points. After all 5 categories had been played I adjusted the scoreboard once again and announced the winning team. 

 

The tournament was a big success and the students actually did a lot; they reviewed tons of vocabulary, reviewed a couple of specific verbs; practiced their watching and listening skills and they of course had to work together.  Important to realize though is that I had 100 minutes for this lesson because I have this class for a double period. The entire tournament is impossible to do in just one lesson; which is something to think about if you'd like to set up something similar for your own class. You could always split the tournament up and divide the rounds into two separate lessons. Another thing you can keep in mind is that the QR treasure hunt I did can also serve as a great way to review a chapter right before a test or as a way of formative assessment. It doesn't have to be used as an introductory exercise. As always, the only limits are the ones of your own imagination. 

 

I loved doing this lesson even with a class I'm not a big fan of. The key is in relinquishing control just a little bit. Something that I've talked about before.  Doing activities like these will always result in enthusiastic and rowdy kids but as long as they are doing what they're supposed to be doing should you really worry all that much? If they don't destroy the classroom and are actually busy with English, it's a definite win! 

The tales of a young teacher - Games, games and more games

Gotta love those games!

Almere, 

 

Friday, 9th March 2018 

 

Gamification of the classroom, a beautiful phrase that's very common within education. Hundreds of studies have debated the pros and cons of using games to teach. It's something teacher trainees often do, and something actual working teachers often don't. The latter not because they don't believe in the benefits of games in the classroom but often because they don't have the time to put it all together. 

 

During my teacher training every lesson I gave had to have a fun element. My own teachers always told me that during my internships every lesson I taught had to be 'a pearl', yet many of the teachers I know do not abide to the same rule. 

 

I soon came to the conclusion that developing games when working as a full- or part-time teacher is significantly harder than it was when I was a teacher trainee. Back in the day I would give 10 lessons a week, without meetings, nagging parents, difficult colleagues or aggravating bosses. You know, a true luxury position. And that meant I had loads of time to develop games and fun lesson plans. Now... not so much. Fortunately, I had an astonishing epiphany a couple of months ago ''Why not let the students create the games themselves?!'' Brilliant, if I may be so bold as to toot my own horn. 

 

Now of course having students create their own games is limited in some ways. They can't create everything you can because of a lack of resources and knowledge but let's look at a couple of thing they can do: 

 

First up is letting students create their own memory set. Everybody knows memory, and it's a fun and simple way to revise vocabulary. By having the students create their own sets you give them more control over their own learning process. When explaining the assignment limit the students to 15 words. This creates a set of 30 memory cards which is already a lot. Have them review the vocabulary lists of the theme you're working on and pick the words they think are most difficult. Naturally this changes from student to student. Give them coloured pieces of paper, let them fold those papers into neat little squares and they are good to go. The students can, when finished, take turns practicing each other's memory. They can also take their sets home with them to revise the vocabulary at a later time. 

 

Another good idea is to let them create their own 'building bricks'. If you don't know this game/exercise it's essentially cutting up written sentences, creating the so called 'building bricks' and then trying to put them back together again; a puzzle if you will. The students that can create the most correct sentences in the shortest amount of time is the winner. Again, let the students pick the sentences they think are the hardest and have them write these down and cut them up by themselves. They can take turns playing each other's sets. You can add an additional rule to the game where a student gets 2 extra points if he/she can create an original sentence with the 'building bricks'. 

 

A last game that students can also easily make themselves is a quartet. This of course lends itself best to specific themes. Right now I'm working on a theme called House and Home with my first years. The categories for a quartet could be: kinds of houses, different rooms, furniture, etc. 

 

All the games mentioned above are very easy to make, you need to provide your students with enough coloured paper, some scissors and then they are pretty much set. By having them create the games you save yourself a lot of time and resources (think of all the laminating jobs you will no longer have to do!) and it also puts the students in control of their own learning process. You can choose to make these games at the beginning of a theme and have students use them to actively learn the taught content. Or you could have them make the games at the end of the chapter as a means of revision of course you could also do both. The games that I've talked about are a very good first step, when you've more confident and when your students are a little bit more advanced you could also start to think about having them create their own board games to practice grammar or maybe even their speaking skills. It kind of depends on what their learning goals are but everything is possible. 

 

As a teacher you can kind of take a backseat during these lessons; you have the opportunity to walk around and observe your students while their working. This gives you the time to bolster the confidence of your weaker learners and provide them with some additional support or encourage your stronger students to create more difficult games (differentiation people!) 

 

As for my students; they love making their own games. These lessons are some of the best and most relaxed in the bunch. Put up some music and let them do their own thing! They relish in the opportunity of working with their hands, of folding and cutting and drawing, and most importantly they really enjoy getting to make the executive decisions on what content is a part of their games.  So, if you're a fan of using games in class but don't think you have the time to do so I'd advise you to try this sometime. If it works for you and for your students it can be a major timesaver for you and a great motivation for them. A win-win!

The tales of a young teacher - American pancakes

Don't forget the maple syrup!

Almere,

 

Friday 23rd of February 2018

 

As I mentioned before I work at a vocational school, which means that my students have a lot of practical classes like making flower arrangements, styling & design, business class and also cooking class. This means my school is equipped with a lot of awesome classrooms that even regular boring teachers like me can use. I especially love using the kitchen! 

 

Since this was the last week before the 'krokusvakantie' and I had just finished a chapter with my third-year students I decided to take them on a culinary adventure. American pancakes are a favorite of mine; easy to produce and extremely delicious, so I used a recipe that I randomly found on internet and spent a lesson on reviewing this with my students. We looked at the ingredients and the necessary steps to make the pancakes and reviewed a lot of vocabulary. Verbs like sift, whisk and blend as well as abbreviations like tbsp and tsp were all explained. Afterwards we watched a couple of Youtube videos showcasing the pancake making process and a hilarious video of a British vs American pancake showdown. I also already made the students pair up and went over some ground rules, the first and most important being that they could only speak English while in the kitchen.

 

The next day we actually ventured into the kitchen itself and I had planned ahead and had already laid out all the ingredients as well as all the necessary kitchen utensils. This meant that the students could use the full 50 minutes to produce their pancakes. The students went wild in the most positive way of the word. As a teacher who normally teaches a highly theoretical subject (especially in the eyes of my students) watching them getting their hands dirty is an amazing experience. My toughest students turn into the most passionate kids, the shy ones are in their element while some of the stronger students are left floundering. It's an amazing role reversal and completely changes the group dynamic.

 

The funniest part is of course the fact that they do have to remember to speak English, which is very hard at first. A good incentive is to keep score of who slips up and have them hand over a pancake for every time they use Dutch. Believe me, they will try their very best to speak only English when their food is on the line! 

 

I think taking your students out of the classroom is always a good idea, especially students in vocational education who have a harder time concentrating and sitting still. I often take the students outside, into the kitchen or into the gym. It's a change of scenery and helps motivate the students. It's also great for teachers to leave the safety of the traditional classroom and venture outside of their comfort zone. 

 

Seeing my students in the kitchen is great but from a teaching perspective it's also really daunting. They're working with ovens and stoves and sharp objects and they are moving around constantly. They obviously know what they are doing but I am often lost and suffering from anxiety attacks. Yet seeing them so enthusiastic and engaged is totally worth my 50 minutes of praying for them to not set anything on fire. 

 

So, if you work in vocational education or your school has a kitchen that you can use find a nice recipe or ask your students for input. Of course, you can also do this activity when you've finished a theme about food or are doing a culture lesson. It's loads of fun and lets your students interact with the language in a very carefree way.  

The tales of a young teacher - Mole people and other interesting bits and pieces

Have them speak in small groups to make it easier!

Naarden,

 

Friday February 16th, 2018

 

This week I've tried to really implement fun speaking exercises in my lessons. The ones that were the most successful are the ones I tried out with my fourth years students. This class is by far my favourite, seeing as they are also my mentor class. Seeing as they are graduating at the end of the year the students are busy preparing for their oral exam which will take place in about 6 weeks. Two weeks ago, I made a pact with them to only speak English both inside and outside the classroom. If they can do this until the oral exams I promised them a pizza party. Unsurprisingly they loved this idea and have taken it upon themselves to address me in English every time they see me. I’ve been feeling very loved!

 

To prepare them for their oral exams I've taken it upon myself to give them a bit more freedom with speaking assignments, something that I have a lot of difficulty with because I'm a huge control freak. This is a big hindrance when doing speaking exercises in class because I am often unsatisfied about the process; I try to control the speaking too much and end up spoiling the exercise for my students as well as for myself. My goal this week was to relinquish control and hand the reigns to them, and it went great! I was surprised by their enthusiasm for the exercises and how well they participated. The amount of speaking about something else, and the amount of Dutch they used was negligible, they really were interacting with each other in English! I was absolutely thrilled.

 

The exercises I used were fairly simple, the first one is called '12 bits of paper' and the second one was called 'the mole people'.

 

12 bits of paper:

- Divide students into groups

- Give them a sheet of paper

- Have students think of 12 topics they would like to talk about

- Have students write the topics down, cut the sheet of paper into pieces and number them 1 to 12

- Give each group a pair of dice and have them take turns rolling them. The number that comes up is the number of the piece of paper they will take about. They have to talk about this for 2 minutes.

- When all the topics have been talked about have a short class discussion about the chosen topics and about the students their talks.

 

The students were a big fan of this exercise. They liked that they could think of their own topics and that they could time themselves. They had total control and they stayed on task the whole time!

 

Mole people

- Explain to the students that they are going to live underground in the abandoned subway tunnels of New York.

- Divide them into groups

- Have each group discuss which 5 items they would need to survive

- Have the groups present their chosen items to the class

- Have a class discussion about which group would survive the longest and why

 

This exercise was also a big hit with the students; I spruced the story up a bit by having them imagine that a nuclear war had broken out and so the only way to survive was to live in underground tunnels. The students loved the topic and had some interesting ideas about what to bring with them. Some ideas were really resourceful (water filtering system) while others were not as thought out (lots of money) yet they had a lot of fun discussing the merits of their chosen items and an enthusiastic debate ensued. Even though the English wasn't perfect, and the students had to search for words and sometimes revert to Dutch, they kept trying to speak English and most importantly were actively participating in the lesson. After the debate we reviewed some of the language needed to express opinions and thoughts and I feel that they took away a lot from this lesson.

 

I think that what I've learned as a teacher is fairly important as well; in order to really engage your students in speaking English you shouldn't be afraid to relinquish control. If you take a step back and let things run their natural course the students will happily participate. It was great to just observe and listen to their ideas and I've had multiple students comment on how nice they thought the classes were. So, I would definitely recommend this to everyone; find an interesting topic, or let the students think of it themselves, set a few task parameters (time, objective, etc.) and sit back and observe; the results may very well surprise you!

The tales of a young teacher - A fun way to teach vocabulary!

Use two of these in order to play the game

Amersfoort, 

 

Friday February 9th, 2018

 

This week I tried a new game in my classes to encourage my students to speak- and more importantly have fun while speaking English. I found the game while scouring the internet on a blog called 'Blog de Cristina' a blog by an English teacher for adult. I'd recommend this site to everyone who's looking for some fun activities. Het blog is a goldmine and I'm sure that I'll try out more of her ideas.

 

For the game you need a computer, a projector and two bells (as seen in the picture). The game is meant to help the students remember new vocabulary.

 

Step 1: pick a topic. I'm currently working on a theme called Out and About so my topic was animals.

 

Step 2: introducing the new vocabulary. I did this by having the students name as much animals in English as they could.

 

Step 3: Brainstorm. In this fase I eliminated the really easy words (cat, dog, etc.) and tried to encourage the students to really think of animals that they couldn't name in English yet.

 

Step 4: Create a wordcloud. I started up wordart.com and had a student type in the animals the class had decided upon. When all the animals were written down I created the wordcloud.

 

Step 5: Divide the class into team A and team B and have each team select a captain. Both captains stand in in front of the projector screen with their backs to it and their faces to the class.

 

Step 6: Have the teams take turns in describing the various animals on the screen. When one of the captains knows the answer (regardles of which team is describing) they press the bell and win a point. You can make the teams select different captains after a few rounds.

 

I truly loved this game! The students had a lot of fun and the were really competitive. After trying it out though there are some tips I can give you if you ever want to try it out yourself:

 

Tip 1: After every time the captain guesses an animal correctely spend some time on reviewing the description that was given and eleborating on this. For example my students had to describe a sheep. They came up with 'The animal is white' and 'The animal is soft' afterwards I asked the rest of the class what else you could say about sheep. This way I also managed to teach words like 'wool' and 'fluffy'

 

Tip 2: To ensure that the game isn't over too fast tell the captains that they can't guess until at least two tips have been given. This ensures that the one giving the description has to use a little more language.

 

Tip 3: To make the game fair and eliminate inside jokes and the likes tell your students that the hints they give have to be generic and understandable to everyone.

 

I think that this game was a huge succes and I will definitely keep it in my lessonplan. It's also a great way to revise vocabulary in the lessons leading up to a test. I would recommend everyone to try it out at least once!