Images and Ceri Jones – A PLN Interview

I was super happy to find out we could do more than one PLN interview for Brad Patterson’s PLN Challenge (read more about here). The first person I thought of was Ceri Jones, one of my very favorite people on twitter – and off it as well, as we met in Brighton in April. Ceri was the one who hosted my first ever blog post ( The Day Nothing Became Everything) and has been a great, supportive friend all along.

Her blog is filled with ideas for lessons and reflections on her teaching… If you don’t know it, check it out: Close Up

For the interview, we started skyping, but then the connection went bad and we had to finish it mostly through chatting :-(

So here’s Ceri’s interview!

After Ken's session at IATEFL... finally!

1) If your students were to label you with 3 adjectives, what might they be?


Smiley, approachable and committed.


Smiley didn’t really surprise me… Having met Ceri in person I know she is always smiling. And she has that warm, welcoming smile that just makes you want to smile too. She said she had never noticed it herself but that her students constantly mentioned that to her. I asked her whether she thought being smiley overlapped being approachable, and she agreed.

Students aren’t scared of talking to teachers and asking questions when they look friendly and open.

When it came to committed there was actually a but of “committment”. She thought as committed was a kind of compromise to cover serious, about their learning, committed to them, to doing my best as a teacher I guess, strict and demanding – expecting them to do their best. I couldn’t do anything but agree. Don’t you???

3) What would we find in your refrigerator right now?


Mostly fruit…black cherries , which are in season here, apricots and figs – I love figs.


I wasn’t surprised…Ceri is an extremely committed mother and a very balanced – in touch with herself person – and fruit are delicious healthy food. I have to admit I was a bit jealous of the black cherries… We don’t really get them around here. I blame it on the darn tropical weather ;-P

4) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

“When I was a little girl I wanted to be a farmer’s wife…. And after a little chatting she said “Now I think I’d be the farmer myself – again…I’m not surprised! Recently when she came across an article which talked about people “fighting” over little patches of land on the streets of Spain she said she’d love to have some to plant some herbs and vegetables…. :-)

Image by CatPiper on Flickr - CC



5) What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

It happened in Ceri’s first year…and her account of it resonated very close to me. I am one of those people who are glad there are teaches with different teaching styles and preferences… Her experience was with a class of 8 year olds – one lad had chronic behaviour problems – a real attention seeker – literally climbing the curtains and bringing bookshelves down on top of himself – She didn’t really know what to do with him – tried the ignore him, don’t rise to his game ploy – Many of us have been through that experience, I know I have and it’s nothing Id like to relive..

But what called my attention was that Ceri said: “I think I failed him really but at least he didn’t disrupt the rest of the class too much”…That comment took me back to one of my recent posts “Why do We Take it so Personally?“. Why do we always think it’s our fault, that we failed???

After that experience Ceri refused to teach anyone under 12 :-)!  Luckily her school made no objections and let her specialize in teens and adults – better for us! After she mentioned that, I asked her whether she thought motherhood had changed that a bit – because I know it has sure changed it for me! – to which Ceri replied:

” I think it might do better by those kids if I tried now –
a lot more confidence as a teacher, more knowledge of their development etc as a mum”.

Then she proceeded to tell me about an experience she had last year, substituting a teacher for a class of 3-year-olds… She felt there was nothing much she could do except babysit babysitting “no teaching – the lesson plan was total double Dutch” I relate to that, as I have no talent for teaching Young Learners…

6) What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

Aravind Adiga – Between the Assassinations – great book, but she read it months ago. She hasn’t been to the movies in years… Can I suggest someone send her a movie coupon???

                                                        7) Being an author and a teacher is…

Great … incredibly stimulating… the two feed into each other … but juggling is exhausting too sometimes“. Then we talked about whether being in the classroom changed things, and she thinks it wouldn’t be the same for her, because being in the classroom makes it easier to know and understand students’ responses and reactions to the activities, to the lesson. And that being in the classroom made it easier to keep up with changes in teaching as well as constantly question and develop what she does.

I then asked if being an author would be the same for her if she weren’t in the classroom, and she told me ““I used to think that too – but I don’t think it’s always true – some authors who aren’t in the classroom are still incredibly aware of all the factors and write amazing material – spot on – others, despite being in classroom might not get is as “right” – depends so much on the individual writer. But passion – interest in learning – effective learning – and supporting teachers thru their materials – I think that always shows” . Hooray for passionate authors like Ceri!

These days writing is taking more of her time than teaching, but Ceri thinks a 50/50 ratio would be nice, and that they were very different skills – but she really enjoys both. Ceri has great ideas for activities – I know that not only from her blog, but because at my school we use one of her books (Inside Out) with our Advanced groups and not only the book is great but I especially like the resource book, filled with great ideas.

7) What’s your favorite place in the world?

“A beach not far from here – called Bolonia – looks out over Africa – big windy, sandy beach, superb winter sunsets”

She still had the sand and salt in her hair from being there that same afternoon – definitely a beach person! And she once saw a woman swimming with her llama there (!??!).

8) My pet peeve is…

“People who complain all the time. I love and appreciate a good rant now and then, but it’s the moaners I can’t stand”

Her answer fits both professional and personal life perfectly and I totally agree with her on it. If people just had a more positive outlook on things their lives would probably start working better. Positive thinking attracts positive energy and good things in my opinion.And the other way around is true too.

After that last question came the twist of this interview (one of my favorite things about these interviews is that each has a different twist, a different thing each interviewer does). Since Ceri loves images – especially close-ups – I decided to show her some pictures that I got from her, from #eltpics and have her tell me the first thing, word, memory that came to mind… And then I did a little video with the images and her replies…

Thanks for the interview Ceri! xx

Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me

Image by Diarmuid Fogarty - found on #eltpics on Flickr - Close ups set

 

A lot of teachers don’t know what a PLN is… Many know what the letters stand for (Personal Learning Network – or Passionate Learning Network as Shelly Terrell says) but don’t see how it works, how they can learn, benefit from it. Inspired by Tyson Seburn’s challenge to the PLN to give a spin-off to the #FollowFriday tweets on twitter (If you’re an educator and haven’t joined twitter yet you may want to read this: “Why Twitter is a Teacher’s Best Tool“) I decided to share my story, how being on twitter, having a PLN and challenges my PLN propose have made me reassess my practices and change some of them, how they have helped me develop professionally and learn.

One of the first blogs I started reading once I discovered the world of Educator Blogs was Jason Renshaw’s (English Raven). If you haven’t read his posts I strongly suggest it. Jason is an Australian educator with fabulous ideas, incredibly sharing and always questioning things, rethinking practices, a never-ending quest for teaching more effectively. And it was also Jason and his blog who have introduced me to many things: tools, books, articles, blogs… and dogme. Yes, I know dogme has been around for a while, but I recently discovered I was completely out of the loop of what was happening on teaching and the ELT world.

See, Jason has a thing for challenges. And I have one for taking them up. I have to admit I find it hard to refuse a challenge. Challenges for me do exactly what they are supposed to: challenge me to do things differently, think out of the box, take risks, venture in new paths. They bring a breath of fresh air, motivate me. And the very first challenge I took was from Jason. An invitation to teachers to teach a different class and try teaching upside down and inside out. In a few words, the challenge was to go into class without a plan, teach it using your intuition and student emergent learning and then, after the class was over, sit down and write the plan. I took the dive. If you want to know how my class went, you can read it on my guest post on Ceri Jones’ blog (I didn’t have a blog at the time, this blog was actually in a way the result of my taking this first challenging and sharing my experience on Ceri’s blog) – The Day Nothing Became Everything.

By the way, the post in which Jason proposed this challenge was my first #FFSpinoff.

What have I learned from that challenge? I learned I don’t need a lesson plan. I learned having the class based on student emergent learning can be a fantastic experience. I learned doing things differently can be fun and effective. I learned going to class without a plan in no way means I am going unprepared (thanks to Jim Schrivner’s reply comment to my account on Jason’s blog). It made me buy Teaching Unplugged and learn more about Dogme. Yes, I’ll be arrogant here and say I think it made me a better teacher. More confident for sure. Definitely more aware of using students’ immediate needs and interests in the class.

Other challenges came along (you can see some of them if you choose the tag challenges on this blog) and I learned from each and every one of them. Some were not related to classes and teaching, like Adam Simpson’s Ten People I Follow on Twitter and Why – it made me aware of some great people I didn’t know on twitter who I started following. Every one of the challenges I took has taught me something, about teaching, about people… So I’ll keep taking them.

Besides the challenges, my PLN has proven to me the amazing power of sharing. Sharing ideas, practices, activities, tools, websites, articles. It has introduced me to amazing educators, like-minded people – some of which have become dear friends. My PLN has been supportive in ways I could never imagine. So I make a point of trying to convince as many skeptics on the power of a PLN to join twitter and form one.

What about you? What have YOU learned from your PLN?

My First Webinar

Connecting with people around the world...

 

Last Friday, June 3rd, I had the wonderful opportunity to present my first webinar. My dearest friend Shelly Terrell presents a webinar every Friday for the American Tesol Institute and since she would be traveling last friday she suggested to them that I do the webinar, and they invited me… (thanks for the vote of confidence!)

 

I was super nervous… Shelly had talked me through it but still… very nerve-wrecking, especially because I was filling in for shoes way to big for me ;-) But with the help of some fabulous friends and PLN (the line between the two gets very shady for me sometimes) I pulled through and I thought I did ok. We had educators from all over the world attending and everybody was super participative.

 

My special thanks go to Shelly for trusting me to fill in for her and for suggesting my name, to the American Tesol Institute for giving me the chance, to Mike Hogan who “held my hand” and with his webinar expertise gave me very important and useful advice and to other members of my PLN who were there supporting me. You guys are awesome and I owe you!

 

And if you’re wondering…. here’s the recording, so you can judge for yourself… please, I’d love some feedback on things I could’ve done better. I already got the suggestion of getting a new set of (better) microphones, which I will do soon :-)

 

 

The Fluency Dichotomy: Writing X Speaking

Writing samples - Creative Commons photo by Chuni (via Flickr)

Something has been puzzling me for a while… I teach mostly more advanced groups (B2 and on) and many of them have had experiences abroad – some have lived abroad, some have taken English courses abroad, some have been exchange students in English speaking countries, etc – so they’re quite fluent orally. I mean it, they speak very well (and not only the ones who have traveled abroad). But when it comes to their writing they just don’t seem to be able to keep up the same fluency. Of course I run into the exact opposite (students who write really well but have a hard time producing orally), but these are the exception.

I started noticing that in the writing assignments they handed in. Sometimes it seemed incredible that “that” essay full of communication breakdowns, poor punctuation, incorrect spelling and L1 dependent structures had been written by that student that spoke like a native speaker during our classes.

To corroborate my perception I have the results for the Michigan Language Certificates tests we offer at our school. I am the Michigan Test Manager and what I usually see when I receive the reports is a number of our students who have taken the test achieving top marks – High Pass – in most, if not all, the other parts of the test (oral interview, listening and GVR – Grammar, Vocabulary and Reading) and a Low Pass in writing. How can that be explained???? Isn’t fluency usually supposed to beall around? When students learn something and are able to use it comfortably in their speech wouldn’t it be natural to expect the same fluency level in writing?

I started looking for an answer… or at least trying to. I looked into their previous class records and comments from previous teachers; I talked to them; I compared writing assignments done in class to the ones I sent as a homework assignment. Something was very obvious: students who liked reading usually wrote very well – not exactly surprising eh? It was also very common for me to hear a student say: “I hate writing, it’s boring”. And then I started asking students abouthow they did when writing in Portuguese, and they said the results weren’t much better. I heard Portuguese teachers, professors at the universities complaining the same thing. It seems students are losing their ability to write cohesive, well-structured, effective texts (especially teenagers I dare say) in any language, not only English.

Is it a reflection of how little they read? Of how much time they spend on computers? At using web-search for their school projects and making use of the copy/paste dynamic duo? I am afraid so… it is like any other ability we acquire or develop in life – such as bike riding – if you don’t use that for a while your brain slowly forgets how to do it properly. And then again, have they ever learned how to write compositions? I tend to blame it much on technology, since I believe this is a more recent phenomenon. When I was in school most of us knew how to write. We had to read a long list of classic literature books, we had to research in books and big encyclopedias for school projects and write things with our own words – or else everyone would have the exact same text, since everyone has the same encyclopedias at home :-D

I’ve been working hard at improving my students’ writing skills, trying to come up with creative ideas of working with it, motivating so students don’t feel it’s that boring. I give special attention to building their vocabulary (I posted about some of these ideas before, the vocabulary bank and reviewing vocabulary); I work with sentence/paragraph structure; I do process writing; I give meaningful feedback. But so far, I have to admit I’ve had far fewer success cases than otherwise.

What’s your take on this? Do you have the same problem? Do you also think technology is (even if partially) to blame? Is there something we do? Would love to hear from other teachers. :-)

P.S. This post is the result of reflections post my presentation at IATEFL this year – on this topic, and on a webinar I’ll be presenting with some of the ideas I presented in Brighton, tomorrow, filling in for Shelly Terrell while she’s traveling. So I’m doing the American TESOL Free friday Webinar tomorrow, June 3rd, at 5PM Brasilia time (GMT-4). If you’re interested in taking part it’s free and you can access it here.