Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Art in ELT

This is one of the lessons I won't forget and I think my learners won't forget, too. 
Why so? The amount of engagement was high and learners were involved along the whole process, with varying degrees, of course.
Earlier than this, I had conducted a questionnaire with my learners and what I discovered is pretty telling. In fact, according to the results of the questionnaire (By Dr Silverman), 70% of my learners are Visual Learners.  They enjoy all sorts of visuals and retain better when they see the word, let alone when they engage in drawing or/and are asked to describe/ or write about their drawings. 
How: I explained to my learners that they wouldn't be judged upon the quality of their drawings or their talent in drawing. It was not a lesson in art. It is rather studying English via Art. Art encompasses many activities, but in my lesson , the focus was on drawing.What matters most is the fact that they share their insights , either by speaking or writing. They also engage in a collaborative activity after drawing. They try to describe their drawings to their peers before describing them to the whole class. They ask each other questions based on the wh-questions: who, what, where, when, why.They do not only practice the wh-questions, but they also ask for their teacher's help to translate to them some words, they've never come across and would like to know their equivalents in English.
Level: This lesson was taught with 7th grades of basic education.The age range is :12 to 14 years old.They are beginners and they are so enthusiastic about the language. This does not exclude the fact that they face difficulties, yet, they show a lot of energy and interest in their English classes. Though English is studied , starting from the age of 11 , which is a bit late and we are expecting a lot of reform to happen. English is the third language and learners, in public schools, yearn to study it at an earlier age. French is still the second language here. 
What:  What amazed me in the lesson itself, is that I discovered the favourite learning tools my learners used. Some low-achievers preferred to copy some ready-made pictures, though I asked them to imagine a scene and draw it. Well, I was observing them and relishing the moment they were fully-engaged, in the process. Some other learners started commenting on some learners "poor" talent in drawing. At that moment, I was there to tell them that there was no perfect drawing. More importantly, every drawing was a piece of them and this counts a lot. To my astonishment, the most shy girl showed great skills in drawing and her peers gathered around her and asked if they could learn from her. She felt extremely happy and proud that she was special in some way. I could notice those glaring lights in her eyes. She could assume a positive role and I could feel her joy. Another instance is of a boy, who, though very calm, in nature, displayed a lot of violence in his drawing. Does this reflect his environment? I am not certain. 
The drawings, helped me see my learners clearly. They reflected their innocence, their inner beauty and their wonderland. The beauty of the family, of  Nature, of the sea, of the people,of Tunisia,  is well-reflected in their drawings.

The While: The core of the activity was not testing the learners' talent in drawing, but it was using drawing as a means to engage the learners and push them to write about their own drawings. This activity helped them them discover a piece of themselves. What are their predilections? How far can they use their imagination to go beyond the world around them?How skilled are they? 

This short experience would never be forgotten for most of them, as they outspoke this with elation. After drawing, learners engaged for a while to write sentences describing the pictures they drew. The sentences were not perfect and they faced a lot of difficulties with some vocabulary they needed, but I was there to help them and the frowns on some faces disappeared.

Amazingly, the activity was engaging and the learners were contented that their teacher has taken some pictures of their drawings and would publish them. This type of activity is wondrous due to its positive impact on all types of learners. Some learners showed their hidden talents and others felt self-confident and helped their peers to draw and choose colours. 

One shortcoming was that one session was not enough, especially for stumbling learners. They did not finish the writing and they were invited to resume it at home, which is something I hate and I do not believe it could lead to better learners (IMHO). I believe every production (spoken or written should happen inside the classroom and whatever should be completed, should be at least a tiny proportion of the whole required from the learners). What I always cannot master very well is Time, which seems always to flee subtly. Will I be more proficient in managing time with my learners? I hope so! 

Happy Day! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Interview with Sylvia Guinan


As summer is on the doorstep, I will have much more time to focus on blogging, hopefully.One way to enjoy this summer is to learn from the most inspiring people I have encountered. These inspiring people are having a wonderful impact on my career as a teacher. Keep peeping here and you'll get the chance to learn from these great minds as much as I do. My motto this summer, then, is to learn as much as possible from these great minds and influential teachers who are full of determination, commitment and creativity.In fact, I intend to interview some great Tunisian Teachers, too, who have always had a wondrous impact on the situation of ELT in Tunisia, generally, and my teaching , specifically. Thus, I hope my blog would be a nice bridge to link all teachers from everywhere to our Tunisian teachers and share insights together.

One of the best advantages of networking is to acquaint inspiring teachers and educators from everywhere in the world. I am proud and honored that my guest today is Sylvia Guinan, an outstanding educator , I have always admired her professionalism and creativity. Two years ago, I had an awesome time during our EVO online course in Storytelling with Shelly Terrell and many other fellow teachers .To be true,I had the honor to make the acquaintance of many wonderful teachers during these classes. I am always thankful because meeting great minds helps us learn a lot and dream big. , there will be more opportunities to introduce some of them, here.

During that online course, Sylvia caught my attention because of her professionalism and top-notch creativity.

Here is the interview I had with Sylvia Guinan and I am sure you will , undoubtedly, feel and notice how professional and creative is she! Enjoy reading this interview !

1- Would you please introduce yourself to the ELT community ?

My name is Sylvia Guinan. I’m an English language teacher with a background in literature. I have a passion for technology and creativity in language learning. I’m interested in technology because it’s empowering for many reasons, and creativity because it’s the essence of life. I’m from Ireland but live in Greece. I have four bilingual children.

2) Why did you choose to become a teacher?

There are so many reasons why I chose to be a teacher, some conscious decisions, others subconscious, and others perhaps inspired by destiny;)

This reminds me of a favourite article of mine that I wrote last year called ‘Why Do Teachers Teach’? The funny thing was that this article inspired another article by ELT psychology enthusiast and researcher, Nick Micelioudakis, who informed me that ‘we don’t know why we do things’;). Such controversial assertions had to be answered, of course. Anyway, below are my musings as to ‘why’.

As far as I can tell, my road into teaching was paved by childhood experiences and my love of literature. I have seven siblings, with five younger than me, so I spent a lot of time helping them with their homework and things like that. We also played lots of creative games together, got lost in world of drama and make-belief, and spent many happy hours all drawing and painting together. My mother had a natural flair for nurturing our talents. Looking back, I feel that this was an accidental Vygotskian set-up and our family had our own zone of proximal development.

When I had to decide what to do with my life at the age of seventeen I was torn between social work, journalism and literature. Teaching wasn’t on my mind at all. I really wanted to become a social worker to help deprived children. After raising eight children, my mother went on to foster many deprived kids and she’s always been my inspiration in life. As it turned out, my love of literature was too strong to ignore. I also ‘secretly’ wanted to be a writer but hadn’t even admitted that to myself. Anyway, I told myself that I’d still be able to help children in other ways through a different career channel. I also decided against journalism, as it seemed too cut-throat for me back then.

Anyway, after my undergraduate degree, I qualified as a teacher of English literature and history, so as to have a steady career. I didn’t know that I would eventually end up going into ELT, but it’s hardly surprising as my initial plans were to travel before ‘settling down’ – whatever that means;)

However, now that I’m teaching online these days, I feel that things are coming full circle, as a sizeable part of my blogging involves interviewing and social commentary – so I’ve gravitated towards Edu-journalism, community work, and professional development initiatives that empower other teachers, thereby helping them to help the children they teach.

3)What are your hobbies and interests?

I’m passionate about storytelling, art, reading , writing and psychology.. These interests are further inspired by my teaching and parenting experiences. Drama is a childhood passion too, and I’m hoping to get back into this in the Autumn by joining a local theatre group – a dream of mine would be to set something like this up for children in the community too. I’ve never been very sporty but I like walking, trekking in the mountains, camping, swimming, cycling and I used to like working out in the gym.

4). What are your plans for continuing your professional growth?

There is so much that I want to do. Regarding professional growth, I’m going to review Nik Peachey’s upcoming book on Digital Classrooms, which I feel will propel my technology skills closer to the cutting-edge. After that I want to set up my own workshops to share my new technology skills and ideas inspired by Nik’s book. Shelly Terrell has some new books coming out too, so I look forward to learning from those.

I currently collaborate a lot with others through professional development initiatives within our wider community networks. I’ll be working with Jason R. Levine again this summer for the upcoming Teacher training and ELT MOOCS. We also have the Reform Symposium coming up which I’m helping to promote. I’m also currently setting up a new facebook page called “Brain-Friendly Communities Online”, which will bring all of our communities together to showcase the work of teachers all over the world and to share our blogs and webinars. There are some other surprises for the Autumn that are still incubatingJ

Yet, I also want to take a step back from too much teaching, at least for a few months, so as to write books, help my children with their publishing, and build up my website into a more fully-fledged online teaching concern.

Beyond that, I’m always reading and doing my own kinds of research out of interest, mostly regarding psychology and creativity.

5. Tell us about an interesting article you have read recently in a professional journal.

I’ve recently read Nicky Hockly’s paper called ‘Digital Literacies’. You can find it at She mentions four contexts of digital literacy – language, information, connection and redesign. The most interesting thing for me was her list of the sub-genres of different skills that radiate from the umbrella term of digital literacies. Read it and see what I mean.

6- What current trends in public education please you? Displease you?

Displeasing is the fact that education is still too bureaucratic, political and myopic to fully support the natural evolution of creativity in the classroom. Pleasing is the fact that we don’t have to wait for bureaucracy and politics anymore. Teachers all over the world are taking advantage of professional development online and working with students to make a difference.

Disconcerting is the continuing prevalence of gender inequality in education. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of social reformation and replacing Patriarchy with my definition of ‘Paidiarchy’, but that’s a long story.

Basically, Within Paidiarchy, 'systems' and morals would revolve around children, motherhood would be revered, fatherhood transformed, gender divides would become extinct, the purpose of life, society and government would be to create ideal conditions for children. Would that not transform learning and allow for creativity and teacher freedom?

I’m also less than pleased about about the tendency for some established leaders in the field to knock experimental initiatives before they’ve had time to evolve.

Thinking trends have remained stagnant within the establishment, in my opinion. There is still too much hardened logic and not enough social/emotional intelligence spear-heading humanistic changes in education.

7. Tell us about the three people who have most influenced your own education and educational career.

This is a difficult question as I owe a lot to so many people. I’ll start with my mother for the values and strength that make me who I am today. The writer who most influenced me during my university studies was William Blake, and my earliest ELT influence was Mario Rinvolucri. Today, my influences are those in my social networks – those in the online teaching field, those who are part of my personal learning network, such as yourself, Faten, and those who share my wider interests in psychology and creativity. They know who they are.

8. Tell us about a golden teaching moment?

The Irish/English bilingual play I organised with 30 six/seven year olds in an Irish primary school. I gave the children a lot of freedom to self-organise and we had a lovely story about the environment acted out through English/Irish poetry, music and Irish dancing. It was very different from the usual school play and surprised parents and colleagues. I was so proud of how the children had made the play magically unfold and how engaged they were throughout the whole project. I was also impressed by the parents who had created amazing costumes.

Other golden moments in ELT have always involved comic creation, music, storytelling moments and, of course, exam success. I’ve seen many Greek students go on to study in England after passing the Cambridge proficiency exam. There is great satisfaction is seeing one’s students start new lives fully equipped with linguistic skills and confidence – and great joy in the moment they share their results. Also, I must mention my Edupunk poetry classes that I conducted through public classes when I first started teaching online – they were amazing experiences.

9- Tell us about yourself, and specifically what brought you to want to be an English teacher?

I’m the kind of person who’s very interested in great conversation and unusual ideas. I also think that life is all about fun – whatever fun may mean for different individuals. Apart from that, I think a lot and read a lot. If I didn’t express, share or try to make sense of it all, my energy would be trapped and frustrated. Teaching and writing help me to do that. Also, as I said before, I was brought up in a creative, sharing environment which may have influenced me in many ways.

10. What is your philosophy about teaching English?

The greatest teaching tool is the mind, the greatest approach is one that evolves through creative engagement, and the greatest gift we can develop is the ability to foster socially-emotionally intelligent communication. The gift of heart-centred teaching requires the vision to ‘see’ unfolding potential that’s not yet visible.

11. What do you think was your most successful lesson you have taught and why?

I’ve taught many different things in many different ways to many different students over the years. Recently my biggest success with exam students online has been through ‘business storytelling’. Students tell me the stories of their business lives, using certain language and situations and then we develop simulations for areas that need further development. It turns out to be the simplest blank canvas approach ever. A blank document, your students words and some fast teacher typing. We create business documents and prototypes together that are far more inspired and realistic than the text-book variety. My greatest success in helping students to memorise words and grammar is also through storytelling.

12. What was the most challenging lesson you have had to teach, and how did you overcome the obstacles?

My most challenging experience was when I had to teach a class of 30 six/seven/eight year old kids (first and second class – two levels simultaneously), even though my only experience was in ELT and secondary school literature. I overcame it by becoming part of their world, seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and having lots of A/B/C plans for mixed abilities. – after that it was magical.

13. Do you have anything else to add?

I’d just like to add that I’m honoured that you chose to interview me, Faten, as I count you as a very special member of my PLN and have such great memories of our work together during the EVO digital storytelling course run by Shelly Terrell and Marisa Constantinides last year.

Loads of thanks Sylvia for the insights shared. I am more than humbled to have had the honor to learn from you.Wishing you more success in your career .