Category: Ideas, Thoughts, Concerns
Most public-school English Language teachers in Greece come from the private sector prior to being substitute or appointed teachers, just like me. When I go back to these first days of change, the inevitable comparison between where I had been and where I eventually found myself in is still so vivid in my mind! By the first week, the mental list of pros and cons between the two sectors had been formed just to help me realize the restrictions to be considered and the adaptations to be employed in my new teaching context. Would you like to know about the drawback that was on top of the list of negative aspects, the one that kept flashing in my head like an old-fashioned neon sign? Well, you’ve probably guessed right: it was the sad fact that I did not have my own classroom anymore!
What does it really mean not to have your own English classroom in a Greek public primary school? That’s a question with a long answer actually, an answer sadly familiar to most of my Greek colleagues to a question that is normally never (even thought of being) asked to a European or American one.
First of all, if you work for a school that does not have a separate English classroom, carrying stuff becomes your … trademark! For an ordinary lesson that does not require a lot of teaching aids, you normally carry a CD player and a CD or a laptop with speakers for the necessary audio files (as this equipment is not always present in every classroom in most schools), the learners’ notebooks and/or worksheets, as well as your course book and activity book copies that you never leave in any classroom, because you need them to prepare the lesson and you do not want to tempt your learners with materials that contain all the answers to all the tasks, conveniently ‘served’ on a bookcase shelf! If you are the kind of teacher that uses a variety of instructional materials, however, you may find yourself needing extra hands (and extra strength!) for the flashcards, the projector, the class mascot, a ball, a big cardboard dice and the photocopied worksheets that you intend to use during the lesson. Your extra hands are normally very willing to help, are more than the ones you need and actually belong to your learners who are not supposed to be spending their break helping you carry the necessary materials for the lesson and are kindly asked to help as soon as the bell rings – which usually occurs right after you have devoted your break to collect everything in one place at the teachers’ office! And that is, of course, only if you, the teacher, are not busy treating a wound, mediating a conflict, going to the bathroom, having something to eat, arranging a cross-curricular approach with a colleague, photocopying handouts or supervising the learners during the break! Because, if you are busy with any of these or other tasks, you inevitably limit your teaching to the main aids mentioned earlier, wrongfully feeling inadequate and guilty for not being able to offer your learners the best you can or would like to have offered.
Aside from being the teacher who always carries stuff, you often find yourself in a classroom where the learners’ seating arrangement is by no means convenient to the collaborative, communicative approach you mean to employ and exploit in your lessons. Most all-subject teachers in Greek public schools are usually fond of the Π-shaped seating arrangement, or the more traditional one, with the learners sitting in pairs in two or three rows of desks. So, what do you do in this case?
- Do you move everything wasting some valuable teaching and learning time, making a lot of noise and arousing conflicts as to who is going to be with whom in the same group?
Yes, you do (at least I do), you rarely do, with a lot of preparation during the break, in cases you want to rock the boat, or when you really have to exploit the benefits of group work!
- Do you settle for the pre-determined seating arrangement and adjust your teaching accordingly?
Yes, you do (at least I do), on an almost daily basis, in most of the classrooms you teach in, trying to compromise with pre-determined and sometimes inconvenient level-wise pairs of learners.
Having discussed this issue with many colleagues, the pre-determined by the all-subjects teacher seating arrangement is a considerable challenge for all of the foreign language teachers who subscribe to the benefits of group work, as group-seating arrangement appears to be the least preferred one in most schools. Based on these discussions, rearranging the furniture and moving it all back at the end of the lesson seems to rarely occur mainly in the ground-floor classrooms of Greek public schools.
One of the most daunting drawbacks of moving around the school rooms every teaching hour is the fact that, most of the times, language teachers appear to feel more like a guest, rather than a classroom-mate in each room. Being allowed to use supplies (the stapler, paper clips, whiteboard markers, etc.), a part of the notice board or the wall, a part of a bookcase shelf or even the teacher’s desk (!) are unfortunately not taken for granted in all teaching contexts! We have all heard of (or even experienced) instances where the teacher’s desk is uninvitingly full of coursebooks, students’ notebooks and photocopies, the drawers are occupied and so are the classroom notice boards and the sharing of supplies that are actually bought by the school triggers arguments and ice-cold smiles between colleagues. Although fortunately this is not always the case in the majority of the classrooms, public-school English-Language teachers in Greece normally carry the most sizeable, yet elegant (!) handbags or backpacks in an attempt to be prepared for any case! For years, my colleagues and I have carried or been carrying a pencil case full of pens, pencils, erasers and sharpeners, a pencil case full of whiteboard markers, a stapler, a double-hole puncher, paper and scotch tape, paper tissues, wet wipes and stickers – among other non-school related items!
Bearing all these and maybe some extra, more trivial challenges in mind, not having your own classroom is quite demanding, especially if you are required to do this in more than one schools, as is normally the case with most Greek EFL teachers in public schools. This year I am one of the lucky ones to be able to use an English classroom, but, after many years of personal experience and exchanges of opinions with colleagues, it seems that working conditions can improve considerably with good communication with the colleagues, willingness from all sides to compromise and lots of planning! Challenges help us grow, make us strong and trigger creativity and motivation, therefore, not having our own classroom is just another hard challenge out there that keeps us on our toes!
This is a blog for English teachers around the world, yet there is something I have been meaning to talk to the world about for so long … Something non-related to teaching, learning, classroom decorating or managing, although I am sure this is what you (and I) have all been busy with as we approach the beginning of the school year! Please, allow me this time to share with you my enthusiasm and excitement about a place so few people know about, have realized its significance and have ever visited and appreciated it so far! Ladies and gentlemen, you are kindly requested to sit comfortably, with eyes wide open, and travel with me to Mavromati Dam, an amazing place situated on Othrys Mountain, in Thessaly, Greece.
I know … If you do not live or are not from Magnesia, Greece, you cannot find it on any map (I sure cannot!), but you can get an idea of its location by clicking here! It seems to be in the middle of nowhere and, if you have tried the previous link, there is unfortunately not much to see from the satellite pictures on Google Maps! Visiting this place though, will give you a whole new perspective of this mountainous area in the centre, the heart of Greece!
Mavromati Dam is a 48m high earth-fill dam that has been created to meet the water supply needs of the municipal units of Pteleos and Sourpi of the Municipality of Almyros, Magnesia, Greece. It is an EU funded project that cost a bit more than15 million euros and it is meant to ensure and provide quality water to about 9 settlements in the area! This means that, for at least the next 40 years, 8.000 residents and more than 10.000 tourists that visit the area all around the year will benefit from quality water supply.
Aside from the impressive technical characteristics and the background of its construction, this blog post here is mainly meant to communicate to the world the unparalleled natural beauty that wonderfully surprises the visitors, the calmness and peacefulness that governs their mind and soul and the realization that inevitably strikes them that some human interventions are meant to bring good to the world and have been made in perfect harmony with their surroundings! Visiting this place many times with family and friends, it is hard to resist silent viewing of the attractive landscape, inhaling the flora of the area and paying attention to the bizarre-for-the-urban-eye fauna! The aforementioned reactions are unavoidable for any visitor, however, on a more personal viewpoint, this destination is ideal for picnic and hiking fans of any age! My family and I love walking around the dam, spotting weird plants and bugs that fly around us and enjoying our meals among the trees, right next to a fount of cold drinking water!
In parallel with these religions which support that the road to heaven is difficult, the actual road to this natural heaven is unfortunately dusty, rocky and a bit scary after heavy rains! This, of course, is not uncommon in many magnificent Greek destinations and it is not necessarily a disadvantage, as children (if they are anything like mine) may find some unreasonable-for-the-adult-mind pleasure just by watching the clouds of dust behind their car, by trying to spot their friends’ vehicles in the ‘fog’ and by feeling the inevitable shaking of their bodies and heads throughout the ascent! Children, of course, have no idea that their mother who is also the car driver and not a local, may have no idea where she is going (as there are no road signs to help and lead her to Mavromati Dam) and may be unable to use her mobile phone as it is out of range! However, being adventurous by nature, this has never worked as a deterrent in deciding to visit this place and, being optimists on principle, this is probably something that will soon be taken care of by the local authorities and associations. Thus, once easy and safe access is ensured, that is maybe when Mavromati Dam will take the place it deserves on all kinds of digital and paper maps, and that is maybe when we, teachers, will organize educational school trips there and help our learners realize our connection with nature and develop their respect towards the surrounding environment, their actual home.
All in all, words, pictures and videos are unable to capture the beauty, the smells and the sense of the breeze on your face while standing on the dam, but they can definitely work as an attractive display of an EU funded project that not only meets the water supply needs of a small central Greek area, but also serves as a perfect occasion to come closer to nature and enjoy it in many ways. Mavromati Dam has undoubtedly not enjoyed the national or even local promotion it deserves as a hiking, climbing, or even family trip destination mainly for practical reasons that are hopefully soon to be taken care of. Till then, it is up to us, plain local citizens, to love it, respect it, suggest and promote it, not only because it is a worth-visiting attraction of our area, but also because it seems selfish to keep this hidden paradise on earth a secret from the world!
“Happy New Year” wishes normally come for everyone around the beginning of January every year. Only if you are a teacher or a student do you appreciate this wish twice a year – early January and early September, when schools start, at least in Greece! And, if you are a teacher, new years always begin in September and last until the end of August, every time! That is when you make sure you have re-arranged your home desk, bookcase and household to best serve your needs (hoping it will last the whole year through), that is when you try to have finished with any possible bureaucratic or other procedures that can only be performed and completed on weekday mornings and, to make a long story short, if you are a teacher, that is the perfect (and only) time of the year for reflections and resolutions for the (school) year to come!
New school year resolutions appear to be almost identical for all teachers who work in similar teaching contexts and have the tendency to repeat themselves every September. Based on experience and long discussions with colleagues, the following list seems to include some of the most common new school year resolutions, mainly for English teachers who work in the public sector in Greece. They are not presented in an order of significance, but they are divided into two categories, the serious and important ones and the less serious, but still important ones:
The serious and important new school year resolutions:
* Spend more time on lesson planning.
* Improve my classroom management techniques.
* Dedicate more time to each one of my learners (and their parents).
* Try new projects, like Teachers4Europe, or Erasmus +.
* Encourage and promote collaboration with colleagues of the same school.
* Be more organized and prepared in terms of materials.
* Improve my computer-assisted language-learning approach.
* Pursue professional development.
* Try to find/beg for a classroom in school that will be used as an English classroom!
* Be more fun, creative and effective during the lesson, when needed.
* Spend some more time socializing with colleagues (of the same and other schools).
* Tidy my drawer/shelf at school and my handbag more frequently than the previous school years!
* Encourage and promote learner autonomy, do not forget!
* Create a library with English books and dictionaries for the learners.
* Keep my computer files organised, so that I do not have to spend any time during next summer doing that!
* Keep blogging, sharing, exchanging ideas and opinions.
* Support my beliefs, while being more open-minded.
* Be more positive, communicative, cooperative and helpful with everyone at school.
The less serious, but still important new school year resolutions:
* Wear more jewellery, for goodness sake! It does not take up much time to put it on and you have so much of it!
* Change my make-up style from time to time, use different eye-shaddows and eyeliner-pencils and eyebrow pencils and lipliners – that is, if they’re still in … Whatever you do, please, look fresh and renewed!
* Try different clothes combinations and wear more of the other clothes in the wardrobe, especially if I lose some weight!
* Lose weight! Bring fruit at school!
* Dedicate some more time on hair! It really needs it! You also know it makes you feel good!
And the list goes on with more personal and/or family or friends related resolutions, but the most appreciated thing around this time of the year is the way you feel about beginnings, the excitement while shopping stationary and other school or lesson related materials and the way that optimism and enthusiasm crawl inside you and take you over! And, although there is always some stress and a feeling that you definitely needed some more rest during summer, you are still full of energy and ready to pursue your resolutions!
Happy New (School) Year everyone, teachers and learners! Feel free to add and share with us more resolutions in the list and … let’s meet at the end of this school year and see how we did! So, I am off to the hairdresser’s, now, as things on the list definitely deserve respect and some of our time! 😉
Dear ELT colleagues,
I am talking to you, who love your job and do it the best way you can! I am talking to you, who do not blog about it, or share your ideas through social media because you do not happen to know how to, or do not have the time to! I am also talking to you, who may not particularly enjoy what you do for a living and blogging or posting about it would be the last thing on your mind!
Let us all take a moment and think … When other EFL teachers share what they do in class with the world, are they just bragging, showing off “what an awesome teacher” they are, or are they just sharing ideas, in an attempt to connect? Well, the truth is that it is only fair and reasonable that I talk about myself and my view of things, but following numerous ELT blogs all these years and connecting with colleagues all around the world via social media, I believe my thoughts coincide with the majority of the people who post their professional practices in public.
Blogging and/or sharing in social media ideas and approaches related to your job initially contributes to the dissemination of good practices. As teachers, we always try to find ways to develop, introduce innovative activities in our classrooms and become more effective at what we do. Internet seems to be an abundant source of inspiration, just because some colleagues have taken the time to share their experience! Secondly, it allows everyone to share original materials that have been created for specific purposes. These materials, most of the times, can be used freely, can be adapted to serve other learners’ needs or can simply inspire some colleagues to create their own worksheets or ELT games!
Additionally, sharing your professional practices and approaches does not only address to colleagues, but also to learners and parents. Learners, on the one hand, can use a teacher’s or a school blog for extra practice, retrieval of useful materials or even access to differentiated activities and exploitation of interactive tasks that can be posted to serve their needs. Parents, on the other, have the opportunity to get a small idea of all the incredible things teachers have been working on with their children, things that they sometimes accuse us of not applying or introducing in class, mainly because they have never asked their children about them or their children have never shared what they have done or learnt with them! Aside from assisting the learners and informing the parents, blog posts seem to be like school journals, that will always be there to remind everyone of those days, those activities, those events and those lessons. Many learners who have now finished school and their parents, go nostalgically back to these posts that remind them of the past and its quality.
Last, but definitely not least, sharing teaching practices and/or materials allows EFL teachers to connect with other colleagues that are in the same situation with them, other colleagues that live in countries near or far away from theirs, with other beliefs and other ideas on their professional field, with younger teachers full of spirit, or more experienced ones full of wisdom, with learners and parents in their school or other schools … Blog posts or posts on social media are normally followed by phone calls, emails and personal messages among colleagues that focus on sharing feedback on practices, exchanging of ideas, clarifications on steps to be followed or bureaucratical procedures that are required, theoretical support of the suggested/recommended approaches and the list goes on and on … And it is this part that is even more time-consuming than posting, occurs unseen and unnoticed by others, is more demanding professionally and socially and brings the writer’s responsibility and accountability forward for everything s/he posts.
So, thousands of EFL teachers around the world who post articles or videos related to their job, may appear to some people and some colleagues as show-offs, bragging about programs, tasks and innovations, but, in reality, they are far from claiming to be “the best”, or “coolest” teachers! They actually happen to have the time to employ their technological know-how in order to pursue all or some of the afore mentioned benefits! On a more personal note, blogging and connecting through social media is my (and many, many other teachers’) way of actually working. I love my job, like you do. It did not just happen to me, I chose to be an English Language teacher many years ago. I am at work in the morning and I feel I am still at work even when I am at home, with my family and friends – and I am not the only one, you know! There are thousands of EFL and non-EFL teachers out there who are better teachers than me, more creative and innovative than me, do what I have been doing and suggesting in ways more attractive and effective than mine and are definitely more experienced and passionate than I am … and they do not share it with the world … being modest, feeling shy, being afraid to be accused as show-offs! Isn’t that a shame?
So, for this once, allow me to brag! Allow me to brag about sharing, as I am definitely not sharing to brag! And, you know what? This is the case with thousands of other ELT teachers here in Greece and around the world! We have all entered the wonderful world of sharing and caring, exchanging and connecting, providing and receiving assistance, developing and achieving! It is more demanding than you would have ever thought, it does not bring you more money in the Greek public sector, although it is more time-consuming than it looks, and it requires organization, responsibility and lots of planning that goes unnoticed. However, it is more rewarding in so many aspects, not only the ones mentioned earlier!
Therefore, try posting, or not … It is absolutely fine whether you do it or not! No ELT colleague should judge or point fingers if you choose not to, as you should not judge or point fingers to those who do. Comment, evaluate, assess with an eye to cooperating, but do not accuse others of bragging, as others do not accuse you of following more traditional approaches, working less than you could have and selfishly keeping all the expertise to yourself! These last accusations sound crazy, right? That is exactly how crazy being accused of showing off sounds to those who post and exchange professional suggestions and ideas!
Sincerely and Respectfully Yours,
We have played interactively with the demonstratives and we have also cleared the air among subject/object pronouns and possessive adjectives! How about revising some or the rules regarding the plural of nouns? Adding a few more pages to our interactive notebook, we managed to have fun while revising!
Don’t you feel excited when somebody brings you a present you had never expected at all and you could not believe you would like, or need so much? Well, this appears to be accurately descriptive of my current relationship with the interactive notebook approach! It’s like a new colourful, fun-filled toy that everybody likes to play with and you, the teacher who has prepared it, know that it is not just entertaining! It is meant to help others learn in a more engaging, attractive and interactive manner and you (will) love every minute of its designing and crafting!
After trying to help a learner with demonstratives, it is time to play and learn with my daughter, who has been a bit confused with object pronouns and possessive adjectives use and expressed her desire to have an interactive notebook, like my niece’s! Here is how she has been presented with the grammar rules:
After reading and playing with the rules, she moves to the next pages that have big flowers with petals that can move! Reading the sentence in the middle, she makes her own, complete sentences by using the correct pronoun or adjective! Then, she checks if she did well by flipping the flower petals!
Apart from attributing a colourful and playful atmosphere to her notebook, my daughter loved the fact that she enjoyed grammar practice this much and has expressed her desire to add more pages like that! Having tried the interactive notebook method in only two cases this far, it has been noted that it initially appears to give the teachers the opportunity to reflect on their students’ learning styles. Additionally, it seems to allow teachers to evaluate and analyze their learners’ understanding of new concepts, giving them ample grounds to modidy and accommodate their teaching accordingly. Finally, the fact that learners are not involved in the actual designing and crafting, brings up the element of surprise during the lesson and allows more time for grammar introduction and practice for the individual learner.
Have you ever had one of those days during which everybody in class has understood the grammar taught (even commented on how easy it has been), but one or some of your learners seem unable to put it into practice, as they do not remember when to use what? Well, in the public school context, cases like that are normally approached during the break, where learners can be guided individulally and introduced to various ways that will assist their learning (graphs that help them remember, course book pages that present grammar, worksheets for extra practice, links to related online interactive games, etc). If we are lucky, the learners that need our guidance stay at school until 4pm, like we do, and we can work on their problematic areas at their own pace, through role plays, songs, even crafts that will make their learning life easier and more pleasant!
Having said (and done) all these things, right when you think you are a cool teacher that helps her learners get better at English, you see something cooler than what you have been doing all this time! In the afore mentioned challenging case, the cooler approach seems to be far more attractive and bears an attractive name: an interactive notebook! Have you seen these wonderful, colourful, flippable, removable notebook pages that not only present things in English, but also allow you to interact with them and practice? Google search “interactive notebooks” and you will be flooded with articles on their theoretical background, templates, printable patterns and exemplary ideas that will blow your (and your learners’) minds!
Having read all about them and trusting colleagues who have repeatedly used them (Aphro Gkiouris, for instance, who has been a warm supporter of this approach), the first attempt took place at home, as an experiment, exploiting my niece’s aversion towards demonstratives (this, that, these, those). Although she had clearly understood the difference among them, she had been having difficulty in using the correct demostrative while producing the target language! That was when she was invited to take advantage of the … super powers of her own notebook!
Having prepared cardboard cut-outs and printed everything we needed, I glued everything on her notebook which looked like that:
She had the opportunity to visualize the rules by … opening the purple windows:
When we opened the lilac envelope, she found colourful pieces of cardboard paper, showing an object or objects with hands pointing at them from near or far away from them:
And, then, she could play and interact, by placing each object in the correct envelope, based on its number and distance from the hand:
Answering potential questions that may arise after this presentation it is worth noting that: * Yes, it was time-consuming to prepare, but paper-crafting was fun to do, as my daughter kindly offered to help!
* No, it does not cost a lot, as cardboard paper and glue are not expensive. If you do not have a printer, you can always employ your art skills which may give a more personal style to the end-product! * Yes, she got everything right, and, no, we did not have to refer to the grammar rules again! * Yes, she loved it! She clearly stated it and also expressed her willingness to go home and play some more with it! * Yes, it seems addictive! I cannot stop thinking on ways I could adopt this approach in a public primary school classroom with about 20 learners per class (a highly challenging task, all ideas and suggestions are welcomed!!!)
A new school year is at its early beginning … And I’m back, blogging about it! Being appointed at the same rural school for a second year, all I can say is that it feels great to be back to school! Yes, many things concerning education these days are making us feel insecure, yes, there is uncertainty in every step of the way, yes, you sometimes feel frustrated and angry with the working conditions and lack of financial support at schools, but, in the end, all I can (and have to) think of is the fact that it is kids that we are going to welcome at school. My kids, my friends’ kids, my neighbours’ kids and kids I have never met before expect me to welcome them with a smile, do my job as best as I can and provide conditions that cater for their needs. So, let’s try to look on the bright side of things!
The first thing that comes to my mind as a positive aspect of this school year is that I FINALLY have a classroom of my own! And this is something I would like to share with the whole world, I am so excited! EFL teachers working abroad may think of it as an exaggerated reaction, but EFL teachers working in Greece know exactly what I mean: No more carrying around books, learners’ notebooks, CD players, CDs, my laptop, my handbag … No more second thoughts on whether the class teacher is going to be annoyed by all the projects and posters I put up on the walls … No more stress about the fact that the seating arrangement in some classes is not convenient for group work … No more embarrassment about the fact that you are correcting assignments at the teachers’ office covering too much space with your piles of notebooks … No more begging for a drawer to keep your materials in order … And, although this ‘no more’ list can go on forever, I ‘ll put a full stop here and just stress the necessity of a separate classroom for any teacher!
Ideal as it may sound, having my own classroom this year does not actually mean that it is entirely my own!The spacious and sunny English classroom available is also the computer lab of the school!It is definitely adequate for computer-assisted language teaching – there are computers (rather old, but with satisfactory performance), a laptop with a projector connected, a printer, a scanner, an OHP, a photocopying machine, dark and light coloured curtains to either darken or light up the classroom! We fully exploited the lab last year and intend to do so this year as well!
Continuing on the bright side of things, meeting my learners and their parents after the summer break was great! So many hugs, kind words, catching up … This is all new to me, as it is the first time I work at the same school for the second year! I know my learners’ names, their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, their interests, their concerns … They know me, the way I work, details about my family, my interests, my concerns … And I like to believe there is still more to find out about each other!
As a last positive point, I would like to mention how happy I am to be working with cooperative colleagues that are willing to help, share ideas and have a great sense of humour! It feels so good to enjoy the atmosphere at work, the place you spend almost half of your day!
So, let’s all raise our glass and drink to an enjoyable, creative, educational, fun school year, for teachers and learners all around the world!
Did you know that the second Monday of January is National Clean Off Your Desk Day? I just found out today and … I better start tidying these piles right away if I want to make it till Monday!!!
Anyway, this post is to inform you about the many national days we are probably not aware of and suggest their potential inclusion in EFL lessons! I bet your learners would love to celebrate and learn about Get A Different Name Day, Ice Cream Day, Fresh Breath Day, Make A Difference Day, Pancake Day, or even Get Over It Day! I know my learners would and I hereby declare that No Housework Day is my personal favourite (that’s on April 7th, though, I hope I don’t forget by then!).
Surfing the net, I came across Sean Banville’s ESL Holiday Lessons Website, which provides a list of all the national days. Clicking on each day, you have at your disposal a wonderful lesson plan for the day you have selected! Each lesson plan promotes both productive and receptive skills, and you can choose to download it in Word-Processing, or PDF format, or even as an online exercise (you can also download the audio input in MP3 format)! There is also plenty of vocabulary and grammar practice!
The moment I came across this site, the first thing that crossed my mind was all these days at school that learners are tired or do not feel like having a lesson (before/after a school trip, the last days before Christmas or Easter break, some Fridays, etc) and the days that they have begged me to do something other than the coursebook! I believe that lessons on holidays would be a pleasant, yet educational deviation from the coursebook! Perhaps it would be a good idea to keep monthly calendars on the classroom anouncement board and maybe choose one or two days per month that we would like to find more about! We can also ask learners to work in groups and find information about some of these special days!
Can’t wait to use them in class (maybe after some adaptation, as I work with beginner and elementary level learners)! If you make it sooner than me, do feel free to provide us with feedback!
Making carnival masks is always fun for kids (and this goes for some grown-ups as well!), but making a mask in which you can hide your whole head can bring tremendous excitement in the house, especially if one of your kid’s best friend happens to be there when you make it! My daughter Mary and her friend Thanassis started working on the masks yesterday! We cut lots of strips of old newspapers and we bought some wood glue, a color spray (white) and two balloons!
We mixed some wood glue in a bowl of water and we put the newspaper strips in the mixture one by one. Every newspaper strip was placed on the balloon, one next to the other and we finished when we had completed at least 3 layers of newspaper strips on the balloons.
Then, we let the balloons dry for a whole day!
Today schools were closed owing to the snow and cold, so here we were again, painting this time the balloons with the white spray! Actually, you can use tempera or finger paints instead (it’s more fun for the kids and the result will be much more impressive if you use a variety of colours!), but the spray works faster, so that is what we did (the kids were not involved this time, this was all up to me, so that they wouldn’t inhale any chemicals). Again, we let them dry for a while. And then, the fun begins!!! We popped the balloons, made an opening at the back for the head to enter and we cut eyes and mouths! Then, they used their imagination and any materials I happened to have at home to decorate their masks any way they liked! Here’s what they made!
While we were waiting for the spray paint to dry on the balloons, we made some simple cardboard masks (we printed them from www.paidika.gr)! The kids had so much fun with them, but not as much as they did with the ones that covered their whole head!
Although it takes time to make a mask like this, we actually attempted to make it at the 1st Primary School of Almyros with the 6th graders a couple of years ago. My learners back then did a wonderful job indeed and they used their masks at the carnival party at school, they took pictures of them for the English School Newspaper and they decorated the school corridors with them throughout the Carnival period (they thought of it as something like a carnival art exhibition)! They even wrote an article for the school paper on how one can make the mask (You can read the article – in Greek – here). You can try this at school, too, by all means, but it is definitely going to take you more than one teaching hours if you decide to do everything with your learners involved. In my case, learners spent one teaching hour to place the newspaper strips on the balloons, I spray-painted them all on my own and, when they were dry, the learners took them at home to decorate them any way they liked! It would have been much more fun if they had decorated them at school, but the element of surprise when they brought the masks at school was almost equally enjoyable and fun (it also boosted the learners’ self-confidence, given that learners from other classes gathered to check the masks out and ended up congratulating the learners involved)! Here are some pictures of my learners working on the masks at school and some pictures that present what they have created!
Can we really expose Greek EFL learners in public primary schools to experiential EFL learning (learning by doing and making meaning from having a direct, personal experience)? I couldn’t really answer that by saying just a ‘yes’, or ‘no’. We work in public schools with outdated and or inadequate facilities, we only have 3 45-minute sessions with our learners per week at best, transporting learners to the appropriate place for experiential learning to take place costs a lot … I could go on forever, but would I only be making excuses?
Last night, while I was ‘visiting’ various ELT blogs, I came across ( at Task-Based Language Teaching blog) a very inspiring, influential presentation by Diane Laufenberg (TEDxMidAtlantic, November 2010 presentation, “How to Learn From Mistakes”). It presents what experiential learning is all about and it exonerates learners (and teachers!) by saying that it’s through mistakes that we all learn. Here is the presentation (take some time to view it, it’s REALLY worth it)!
When I finished watching this video, I found myself standing in front of the computer screen for some minutes, brainstorming, self-evaluating, being carried away by the enthusiasm and excitement of this teacher, Ms Laufenberg, thinking about her learners’ idea of school compared to mine. And I still couldn’t answer the question: Can we really expose Greek EFL learners in public primary schools to experiential EFL learning?
To begin with, there are so many projects suggested by our materials that invite learners to discuss, make decisions, solve problems, take action, but do we really involve learners in an experiential nature of learning? Speaking experientially, there have been some projects we have worked on in my schools, like the one in the 5th grade, that encourages learners to think and decide how they can help poor children spend Christmas almost like they would (they organized a Christmas bazaar selling things they had made), or another one that invites them to work on an evironmental project (they created recycling bins with cardboard, we cleaned up the school yard and the surrounding pavements, they gave out leaflets written – unavoidably – in Greek), but, aside from making them better citizens, better people, there was not much actual experiential EFL learning (most of the decision-making – problem-solving part is performed in English, but there have been instances where they thought and decided something during the break and came to the teachers’ office in excitement to let me know).
This seems to be mainly owing to the fact that we are asked to link EFL learners with a community that speaks their native and not the target language. Creating a leaflet in English with information regarding recycling, or other environmental issues could be experiential in the sense that it is actually distributed to english-speaking people in the community, getting immediate feedback on their work from them. A school trip linked to a school project would more likely evolve with the learners employing their native language, rather than the english, in order to collect the information required for the project.
So? What is there an EFL teacher can do? Is experiential learning only a non-subject-specific teacher’s priviledge? Well, linking with colleagues from other countries is all I can come up with, not being though so certain that this is the actual answer to the question! At my school, we exchange english school papers with other European schools and this allows learners to write and read with a real-life purpose. But, how about speaking, or listening? Could we connect with other learners, work on joint projects, have our learners discuss, brainstorm, solve problems and take action along with learners coming from other countries? A positive response or perhaps a nodding of the head may come instictively, but there are always administrative, time management and facilities issues.
With regard to the first obstacle, well, I have been incredibly lucky to have cooperated with encouraging and supportive management so far, so, owing to lack of experience in the uncooperative/negative/leave-me-alone ‘field’, there is not much I could say to English teachers who are not even allowed to use the photocopier (a colleague shared this experience with me and I still can’t get over it!), or exploit the technology available! As for the last two, ‘evelikti zoni’ and cooperation with the Technology teacher sound and have proven to be valuable for EFL teachers working on projects. Or maybe I’m just romantic, I wouldn’t know! All I know is that I want my learners to feel like Ms Laufenberg’ learners!