Before a Language Teacher… I was a Language Learner

For me, one of the best things about blogging is reading the comments after the blog ans seeing how people from different places, different contexts and experiences read and understand the same post. How they see different aspects – our view of things passes through the lenses that our experiences have given us. I love learning about how other teachers around the world see things, wonder what makes them that way. And one of the most effective ways of doing that, and getting a wide variety of teachers sharing their experiences and views on the same topic, is a blog challenge.

Brad Patterson proposed the latest challenge in my PLN with a post where he shares his story of learning a foreign language and posing a question for anyone wiling to share their story:

“I challenge you to blog a story of your language learning, be it a success or a story about what didn’t work for you OR for your students if you’d like.”

So… without further ado, here’s my story.

Curly-haired, blondish Ceci with dad and bro

My mother used to be an English teacher. I was a very curious child – always wanting to learn things and asking questions. So naturally, I was intrigued by that different language my mother spoke. I leafed through her books, looked at the images and wanted, more than anything, understand what the books said. I learned to read and write earlier than most kids I played with – at 4 to 5 years old. Books have always been my passion.

So my mother bought me English books that came with records (Yes, records!) of cute songs and had beautiful pictures and words under it. And I listened to the records and repeated the words. I listened to and sung the songs. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to communicate. So my mother tried to enroll me in a private English course when I was 6. The course wouldn’t accept me as a student, because the minimum age then was 7. My mother, after much talking, convinced them I wouldn’t fall behind or have discipline problems, so I started my formal studies of the English language.

And a whole new world opened up. It was easy for me. I could reproduce the sounds quite effortlessly, I learned without major problems, I spoke English in class all the time and progressed quickly. By the time I was 13 (with 2 hours of class a week) I had completed the whole course, including advanced conversation classes. Languages are a passion. Communication is a key aspect of my life. Nothing makes me more frustrated than not being able to talk to – or understand – someone.

The first time I really understood what it meant to be able to communicate in another language came when I was 12 – my first trip to the USA, to visit Disneyworld in Florida. I could talk to everyone, get around, order things and, most importantly I understood all the explanations, all the signs… I knew what people were talking about. More than the adults on  the trip! I could never understand how a person can visit a foreign country without being capable of fully understanding what is being said to them. How could they go on a ride (in one of the amusement parks) and not understand the story, what the guides said?

When you visit a foreign country and you don’t speak the language, you don’t get the full experience. You can’t really experience the culture. You don’t get a full idea of the people and their habits. That, for me, is special.

In Kansas, on top of some bails - at 15

After that, when I was 15, I spent a year as an exchange student in rural western Kansas – a year that changed my life and gave me a much broader view of the world, the different people in it. It opened my eyes to diversity and the beauty of it. To how much we learn and grow from being exposed to different cultures, habits and beliefs. I started teaching English when I came back from the exchange program, after some training at the school I had studied at (yes, I know…too young, no real training… that’s a topic to a whole post, I’m afraid)

At about the time I got back to Brazil, I also made a decision. My first life goal. By the time I was 35 I wanted to be fluent in 5 languages. I can tell you right now I did not accomplish that (35 is passed and gone). I did, however, study Spanish – where I consider myself fairly fluent. I also started studying French after I had my second child. But the method and the lack of time didn’t help and I quit after a year. I still want to go back to it. My phonetic talent has persisted, and I still seem to be able to internalize and process foreign languages fairly easily.

But for me, the biggest consequence of my experience was my awareness of the world and to how important knowing other languages is if you want to communicate effectively while experiencing the world. Both my children study at a bilingual school, and I plan for them to be fluent at English by the age most kids go on exchange programs, so they can go to a country to perfect their third language. I speak to them in English often – for them it’s not really any difference whether I speak in English or Portuguese (though they do struggle more with English). They love it and see the benefits and reason for it, because they have been to foreign countries and were able to communicate on their own. I took my kids to visit my Kansas host family and they felt confident (and safe) enough to spend full days with people other than me. They would go on their own to ask for things and information when we went to Disneyworld. They talk to my English-speaking friends when I am on a call on Skype. They see the why, even if they can’t quite verbalize it.

After all, in the age of globalization, information and communication… being able to express yourself properly is key, isn’t it?

How good a liar am I? Taking up a PLN challenge

No, I can’t resist a challenge. And even though I am completely overwhelmed with the arrival of midterm, with grading, assessing efolios and report card writing, I made time to take up Dave Dodgson’s Challenge. On his post, he talks about an acitivity many of us have done in the first day of class, which is saying things about ourselves and slipping a lie in the middle, to have students speculate which one is a lie. Dave recorded himself doing it and invited readers of his blog to guess among the five things he said which two were lies, which were true. Here’s the challenge:

  • Post a video, audio recording or just a regular post on your blog in which you state 5 facts about yourself – 3 truths and 2 lies.
  • Invite your PLN to quiz you and speculate on what the lies are!

So here’s my recording, and I invite you to guess which 2 things are lies. I have always wondered how good a liar I am.;-)

Can you tell which two things are not true???

Learning from Teaching & Sharing and the Secret Garden – What I got from #RSCON3


Last weekend I took part in the 3rd edition of the Reform Symposium Worldwide e-Conference. (you can learn more about it, watch the recordings from sessions and see archives from the past editions if you click in the image above. In short, the conference is made by educators, with educators and for educators around the world. It’s an intense weekend filled with great sessions on an array of topics, all related to education and how it is changing, what we’re doing to follow the change, how and what we can do to be even better at what we do. It was an incredible experience. And in this post I’ll try to put into words what I learned from it, from the 3 parts I played in it.

# As a participant - I learned so much, it’s difficult to pinpoint. I heard and reflected about the changes technology has brought into the teaching practice in many aspects (speed of spreading, reach and availability of information; the dangers of exposing yourself online (and how to protect ourselves and our students, how we have to reflect before putting things online); creating online “spaces” where teachers can collaborate and share activities; I discussed assessment, about new tools, adjusting to the new reality…

This was maybe one of the topics that stuck to my mind. The fact that teachers have to face the changes the world and education have been going through. We have to change, because the students today are not the students from 10, 15 years ago. They’re not even the same as the students from 5 years ago. Learning has even more ways (and places) for taking place. So can we expect to keep teaching as we did before?

I don’t think so, and in that sense the #RSCON3 (that’s the hashtag we used for tweeting the conference) is an innovative opportunity for teachers who are already involved in online learning/teaching/Professional development to discuss the benefits and difficulties of it. But even more importantly, it is a chance for the teachers who are still taking their first steps – or have heard about it but are still a bit afraid of or uncomfortable with it to learn more about it, find ways of getting into it – and see it’s not the bogeyman. I saw many other participants who were attending their first online conference discover what can be done, find out about fantastic resources available for free online.

I could not talk about #RSCON without mentioning the thing that leaves the strongest mark in me, and I will quote Akevy Greenblatt (@Akevy613) on his post about #RSCON to say it:

“I challenge someone to find a profession with more passionate people than educators. I am truly blessed and privileged to be an educator.”

It is impressive to see how much caring, sharing and committment there. And it’s all very evident during the whole conference.

Which brings me to an image I have about my own experience in joining the world of Twitter, Educator Blogosphere, Online tools… Up until about a year ago I used Facebook mostly for chit-chatting, keeping in touch with friends & family living far… I had joined Twitter a little before, but saw little use in it, and had no interest in it to tell you the truth…. I had never read a blog written by an educator… I knew a few websites that offered lesson plans and activities. Then after Braz-Tesol 2010 I was convinced by Jeremy Harmer to join Twitter, and he told me a few educators I should start following. And my life changed. And this is where the image comes… what I found (and am still finding, every day) is such an amazing immeasurable amount of resources, meaningful discussion, interesting ideas and reflections, online conferences, webinars, like-minded people and opportunities for learning and sharing, that all I can compare it with is a Secret Garden.

When you are introduced to the web 2.0 for teachers by someone who can show you the way, that person is actually given you the key and showing you the gate to a secret garden. Something I had no idea existed and it’s unbelievable, beautiful. Conferences such as #RSCON have as a goal to give the key and show this gate to as many educators around the world as possible.

Take the keys and enter… all you need is wanting to.

 # As a Presenter - It was my first time presenting at an online conference, my second online presentation (I have done a webinar before), first time using Elluminate as a presenter/moderator. Many of my feelings regarding presenting online are also Brad Patterson’s as he discussed it in his post about #RSCON, another great post you may want to read.

It’s strange presenting to an audience you can’t see or listen to (except when they get the microphone to ask questions in the end of the presentation). You have no idea of their emotions, their expressions… in a way it’s like presenting blind. Yes, there’s all the interaction going on in the chat box, but that too represents a bit of a challenge to me as a presenter. I never knew whether to look in the box, too afraid to love my line of thought, of drifting away from my presentation.

In a way it’s also fantastic, because I literally had people from all over the world in my session. And the chat box allows for such great interaction between participants, on the spot questions, sharing of links and resources…

Being a presenter also showed me how incredibly helpful it is to have a moderator to assist you. In my case it was extra special, because I had someone from my PLN, my friend Sabrina de Vita as my moderator. the moderator keeps an eye for questions, puts up links you mention, helps participants who are having problems – usually involving the technology… I thank Sabrina for making my presentation as smooth as it could be.

All in all, presenting at #RSCON only made me enjoy presenting online even more and looking forward to doing it again :-)

 # As an Organizer - I was lucky to be invited to become one of the organizers of  this edition of the Reform Symposium. And that was a huge learning experience in itself. To be part of a group made of such inspiring, hard-working, talented people such as Shelly Terrell, Ian Chia, Mark Barnes(who also helped moderate my session :-)), Christopher Rogers, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Clive Elsmore, Jerry Blumengarten, Kelly Tenkley and Chiew Pang is a privilege.

I learned a lot from each of them, I saw how hard everyone worked to make the conference happen (months of preparation and planning, sleepless nights, hours and hours of work) and they do it because the believe in the power of sharing, in the importance of it. They do it for their passion for education. I am honored to be part of such a team. And I had no idea it took so much work to organize an online conference. I am sure I will be able to help much more on the next #RSCON, because I have learned so much.

So, these are my reflections about the Reform Symposium. And the message I want to end this post with is only one:

DON’T MISS THE NEXT #RSCON!!!!

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?

Vladmira, the Peaceful Ruler – A Guest post by Ania Musielak

My new guest author for the blog is a fantastic teacher I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person during the last IATEFL annual Conference in Brighton. I started interacting with Ania through Ken Wilson’s blog, when we were both guest bloggers around the same time (thank you Ken!!!). Our interaction only increased through twitter and the blogosphere, and I’ve learned much from her. She’s a very passionate teacher, with a knack for using drama in the classroom – something I’ve always been a bit skeptical about using and that I’ve been learning new ways to do it in an effective way.

We were talking about Brad Patterson’s PLN Blog Challenge and she said she wanted to take part in it, but she didn’t have a blog to post on. What??? just my luck, because it gave me a fabulous new guest blogger and the chance of knowing another teacher/friend I admire a little better – not to mention giving the rest of the PLN following this challenge the opportunity to know a bit more about our IATEFL roving reporter. Here’s Ania’s post:

The idea of ELT  INTERVIEWS is simple – you choose one member of your PLN and ask 5 standard questions so that we can learn something more about our favourite people on twitter:)

Vladka the Ruler

Vladka  comes from Michalovce, a beautiful little town by Zemplinska Sirava dam – the biggest dam in Slovakia. She is an English teacher and works in a State Language School in Kosice, where she teaches general business English to adults and teenagers. She has an MA in Teaching English Language and Literature and Ecology from Presov University in Slovakia and a certificate in Teaching Business English from English Language Centre in Brighton. Vladka is full of surprises and prepares a lot of extra activities and materials for her students. They never know what to expect:) She is also obsessed with colours and crayons (her favourite ones are “tickle me pink” and “spring green” ).  Her students are really lucky to have such an enthusiastic and devoted teacher and we can learn about Vladka’s teaching adventures thanks to her blog http://vladimiramichalkova.edublogs.org which she started last year in March.


I have known Vladka for some time – we met in Paris TESOL conference last year – and I have to say – her kindness and friendliness enchanted me. We had a lot of fun in Brighton at IATEFL so I decided to make her „the victim“ of my quick fire questions:)

First I wanted to learn something more about Vladka’s unusual name (Brad’s etymology bug got to me;)) and I came across some information that says her name means A Great, Peaceful Ruler“.  Wow, that is some powerful stuff:) So what did the Ruler herself had to say? Here are Vladimira’s answers:

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

Vladka hesitated a bit but finally decided on patient, creative and unpredictable because „they never know if I bring a ball, board game to the classroom or ask them to sing nursery rhymes”. (And bear in mind the fact that Vladka teaches adults:))

Well I would like to add something to that picture  – I asked some of our PLN members to describe Vladka (with one word only but some of us decided to use more – us teachers, always wanting to elaborate;)) And now a challenge for you – can you guess who said what?

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

This is what Vladka had to say:
„Well, I am not a very good cook and I don’t eat meat when I can choose so now there are broccoli, cheese – two kinds, cherry and apricot jam, apple juice, yoghurt (I don’t like yoghurt in fact) and nothing cooked because I am going to cook tonight after teaching.”


3) If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?
Here the biggest surprise – Vladka would love to be an archeologist, zoologist or a mythologist.  Wow, that’s quite a range! I think I would have guessed a zoologist but the other two – never!

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

Here Vladka wanted to concentrate on the most challenging thing when it comes to teaching:

“It certainly is motivation. If you motivate your students, inspire them, then it’s something amazing and it gets back to you.  I love it when I am on my way back home after the whole day of teaching (last lesson usually finish at 7:30pm) and I feel energized and encouraged. And then I sing in my car. But to be honest, I sometimes have problems with young children! I just don’t know what to do with them (so please, feel free to give me any advice on how to deal with them :P).”


To be honest I can’t imagine Vladimira having problems with teaching children – she’s so lively, approachable and always full of ideas! And besides – teaching adults is just like teaching (really big) kids:).

And finally the last question:

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

And here again I learned something new and unexpected

“Hm, last book? I usually read two or three at the same time. I fell in love with Sookie Stackhouse novels and I love everything supernatural or ethereal. I also enjoyed Angelology and now I am reading Smart Swarm. And I am a huge movie fan! Last time I saw Woody Allen’s movie You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger…and I wish I had time to watch again Inception > fantastic movie! The movie I have seen too many times is probably The Matrix. I watched it with friends again and again during one night on astronomy course trip when the night sky was cloudy and we couldn’t watch the meteorites.  You can try to count how many times it’s possible to see this film in one night”.


I was curious so I asked Vladka how many times she actually saw it:  “Hmm, how many times? Together I must have seen the movie like 20 times, but on that night maybe 4-5 times?? The last time I just woke up in the middle LOL!”


I’m ashamed to admit but… I fell asleep in the cinema when watching The Matrix for the first and only time;) Well, the film was shown at night and I was really tired…Vladka I hope you can forgive me;)

 There’s one more thing that I learned about Vladka – she is VERY sporty, she loves Latin dances and swimming and  … she represented Slovakia in a lot of running competitions for about 5 years!

She used to run long distance – 1500 to 5 km. Now she still runs for pleasure.

Vladka, Weronika and me in Brighton – Slavic Power Girls ;)

Anna Musielak is a Polish teacher and teacher trainer holding a Ph.D. from Silesian University. She has worked at the military unit, at college, teaching British Literature and Culture and as methodology director in a private language school. She has also published articles on literature, culture and language teaching. At the moment she is working on workshops and teaching English to young learners and adults. She is interested in using drama, music and literature in ELT. You can find her on twitter and get to know (and learn more from her!): @AnnaMusielak

My First Post

After much thought on what to write on my first post of my blog… I came out with nothing. So I decided to write about what made me take the step and start writing. For people to understand me better, maybe it would be nice to give you a little background information.

I’ve been an EFL teacher in Recife (where I was born and raised) since 1993. At first I didn’t think I wanted to be an English teacher forever. I have a BA in graphic design and teaching English, up to a couple of years after I got my degree, was something I really enjoyed but that I did on the side (on Saturdays to be specific) while I got through school and later worked at an advertising agency. But one day I had to choose between teaching and design – and I couldn’t leave teaching, because it was what I really loved doing. I taught at the university for a couple of years, the history-related subjects of design. But something was missing…it was not only teaching that I enjoyed – it was teaching ENGLISH. And then I really threw myself into it and committed to it.

I love teaching and I always put a lot of dedication and effort into it. But lately I had been feeling unmotivated. Stuck in time. Feeling as if I kept doing the same things, reading the same texts, listening to the same ideas. Any teacher needs to feel like she (or he) is constantly evolving, changing, questioning. And I missed that. It got to a point where I started questioning whether I shouldn’t think about switching careers. THAT is how desperate I was. Until… I discovered Twitter.

Now, don’t think I hadn’t heard of twitter before. I had. I even had signed in already. But I only followed a couple of friends and while it was fun, I didn’t see how it could be a source of profesional development. But during the Braz-Tesol conference in São Paulo last July I discovered a new side to Twitter. I met Jeremy Harmer who knows what Twitter can do for a teacher, and started following him. He encouraged me and told me of some educators I should follow. And as I started reading those people’s tweets I discovered more interesting people, engaging discussions about teaching and ELT. I was introduced to the wonderful world of blogs written by educators. I was given links to great articles, activities… And most of all I met so many inspiring teachers from all over the world.

Being presented to this new world turned my world around. It was a breath of fresh air, new life, new energy. I know everybody says that, but that’s because it is true, and I can think of no better way to put it. I have read more about teaching and English than I can remember ever doing. I have learned, reflected upon my practice, upon my beliefs. I’ve learned about so many great tools available to help us teach better. I’ve made new friends, who share my enthusiasm and interest in teaching. I learned what a PLN was and started building one.  And most importantly, I have shared. I believe sharing is such an innate characteristic of teachers, we just can’t control it. And the sharing among educators on Twitter and the blogs is unbelievable. Powerful. Enpowering. Now all I can think about is “How hadn’t I heard of this before?”. Was I the only one who didn’t know what a PLN was? How many teachers all over the world haven’t heard about this? And after asking myself these questions I’ve made it my mission to help spread the word and get more teachers aboard. After all, I can’t refrain from sharing, right?

So, my first blog post is actually a big THANK YOU to my PLN, my new friends. Thank you for helping me, encouraging me (thanks @cerirhiannon!), challenging me (this one is for @englishraven!), sharing with me, teaching me… or just having some much needed fun. May everyone who hasn’t discovered the world of Twitter and the blogosphere be as lucky to have such a great PLN. :-)