Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The perks of being an online teacher


The perks of being an online teacher
If you have read my posts before, you will probably know that I teach Business English online for some time now, and I am really enjoying it which is why I got the idea to write about some of the advantages of teaching online. Before I move on to talk about the advantages of being an online teacher, I will tell you what I mean by online teaching. When I teach online, I use the Internet of course. My virtual classroom is in Adobe connect. There is a white board which is also the area where I can upload files and share the lesson material, a chat box section and an area for the web cam. There are other pods in Adobe connect but I do not use them. Sometimes, I  also use a land line or Skype when Adobe is acting out and the sound is all over the place.
So, after this brief but succinct definition, let's get down to business. First of all, you may ask me, " Is it better than teaching face to face?" My answer is, "Of course not!" But there are some perks, some are serious... others a bit more humorous..." and here goes!

Perk No.1
I have students from all over the world which is probably the thing I like most about online teaching! One minute I am in Stuttgart, the next Paris. I see how my students view things and how their educational background blends into my teaching practice and choice of techniques. The classroom is not my limit, my internet connection is!

Perk No.2
To all you weather freak teachers, at last a chance to talk about the weather with not one, but ALL your students. When teaching online, you get real life weather descriptions from all over the world. I often ask..... "So, how is the weather over there?" I always smile after asking this question, cause of course, my weather , here in Crete, is much better than theirs : P.

Perk No.3
It is green teaching (kinda...). Paper free to the core. I use no books, no handouts, nada. Just my computer screen.

Perk No.4
I save money on transportation, snacks and coffee. I am at home. I make everything myself. On the plus side, it literally takes me one minute to get to work : D.

Perk No.5
When my students are late, I do not have to sit around doing nothing. I go to my kitchen make some coffee,  tidy up my room....the lots!I can do whatever I want whilst waiting for the late comer.

Perk No.6
I have access to material with the click of a button. I do not have to go through different folders of handouts, books, magzines etc. I just send my learner a link and he has the material I want to share. I can also change my material very quickly if my learner is not in the mood for what I have planned. I once had a learner who said to me, "Joanna, I am tired. I have had so many meetings today. I do not feel like doing a grammar lesson. Let's do something else." We did. I sent her some links to interesting articles and we had a great conversational session.

Perk No.7
I can record my lessons (remember: you should get the permission for this!). My learners can listen to the lesson again if they are uncertain about something . They can also see how they have improved over time (my learners actually DO do this). It is a great way for me to reflect on my lessons. I get to listen to my weaknesses and my strengths.

Perk No.8
It tests and challenges my time management skills. The tech problems always interfere with my time management. Online teaching has challenged me in relation to the time I spend on tasks. I have to be time effective!

Perk No. 9
I think that online teaching is becoming a practical solution for learners who are very busy and we, as teachers, need to keep up with the changes. Technology is everywhere and now it is becoming a way to deliver lessons.

Perk No.10
It is easier to coordinate the use of video, music, the net in my lessons. I no longer need a computer, a cd player, books and a TV. I only need my computer.

Perk No.11
I get to wear my pyjama bottom. What else can a teacher ask for, people?

(November, 2014) New entries......

Perk No. 12
I am hip, a tech savvy teacher and it looks great on the CV.

Perk No. 13
You sound cool when you describe your job to other people. No one can get their head around using a computer to teach and everyone asks, " So, what about a board?"

Perk No. 14
Your time zone is NOT your limit. If you want to teach at 12 o'clock at night, you can. It is day time somewhere else in the world!

Perk No. 15
It is a teaching context that has not been researched enough, so if you are into the whole publishing (academic research etc) scene, well, maybe you should look into online teaching.

                           Picture taken from: http://flowers.babaklix.com/flowers-garden-seeds/

Till next time.....

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wacky teaching ideas

Wacky ideas: Success stories and flops!

As  teacher, I very often try to keep my students interested in the lessons by trying out weird but lovely ideas. The thing is that sometimes the weird ideas that pop into my head, turn out to be a great lesson but other times, well, they turn out to be a flop : p.

Wacky idea No.1
I had started teaching in the public sector. I had been assigned to a primary school in a village. My students were a group of ten 8 year olds so I thought," What can I do to keep them interested? Love English?" I decided I would play a song. "Heads, shoulders, knees and toes" was the song I chose. I got them to repeat the body parts, they also showed me where their head, their shoulders etc were and then I played the song. We did the song's moves and everything was going smoothly. They loved it. So, I had the brilliant idea to play it again. They were having a great time, weren't they? I said to my students, " Ok, since we all had fun, let's do it again!" Then an eight year old boy stands up and in a heavy Cretan accent says," No, we don't want to do this again! Now, we want to do tsalimakia!Sirto!" and he started dancing and clapping. It took me ages to get him to stop dancing and go back to his seat and back to business. For all my non Greek readers, please press the link to see what he started dancing. Pay attention to the lead dancer and imagine a 8 year old trying this!


Wacky idea No.2
Authentic materials,,, I love using them. Back in the days, when MP3s were non existent (I know, I am quite old) I decided it was about time I used songs my students liked, in class. I asked them to bring in their favourite songs. We were going to do some listening based on the songs they chose. I ended up with ten CDs, bits of papers with scribbles on them and a big headache! I did not know where to begin?!? I had no track number, no song titles and no, no , no! I ended up (I am ashamed to admit this) losing some of the bits of paper and I never realized this oh, so brilliant idea. Next time round, I need to plan this better. Get them to bring in the single on their MP3 players, know the artist's name and the title of the song. Then, I make a big file with everything and do some cool listening activities with music.

Wacky idea No.3
Adult learners and haribo gummy bears.... is that a Do or a Don't?After being on the 7th week of an intensive pre sessional EAP course, and in the middle of drafting and redrafting a research paper, my students started to be a bit less motivated. They were mostly sleep deprived and without much energy (if you have taught on these courses, you will know what I am talking about).  Before I move on, I should let you know that during EAP courses I do tend to walk around with Haribo gummy bears  in my bag just to get a boost. So one day I said, " I know you are all tired, but let's do this, and then I will give you some Haribos" Most of my students were from China and did not know what a Haribo gummy bear was so that kinda added some extra incentive. Once we had finished, I passed around the bag of Haribo and they munched away happily. The next day, we were going through the material as normal, and then one of my students goes, " So Joanna... no candy today?" I ended up being one of Haribo's best customers in those final weeks.

                                        Picture credits: http://et.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilt:Packets_of_haribo.JPG

Wacky idea No.4 
Story telling and adult Business English students. Normally, when you teach business English students, your lessons have do with negotiating, email writing, telephoning and so on. I thought that when business people socialise, they do tend to talk about their lives and even tell stories.This gave me the green light to do a story telling lesson with some of my learners. I think that it is a good idea when your adult learner likes role playing, likes telling stories or is doing something that is creative. If they are not in any of the categories I described, then this can turn into a disaster especially when your learner does not want to use their imagination and is always asking you "So is this right? Am I close to the story?" " So, the father was sick? "

Wacky Idea No. 5
It is carnival season. Wherever you look there is a mask, feathers, a costume! I always wear something festive and try to be in the carnival mood and every single year I say, " Never again!" Seriously! Why do I do this? This year, I had the brilliant idea of wearing big tinted glasses and a hat with pom poms hanging off it. It is so hard to teach in those. So, yes, my lesson was planned, my materials were ready, we were going to talk about costumes and carnival. The only thing I had not included in the anticipated problems section of my lesson plan was flying pom poms. So, of course my lesson was more on the "Haha! Miss you look funny" side and not that much about grammar and vocabulary. Lesson to be learnt. ....next time I want to dress up... I won't!

Picture taken from: http://www.iidudu.com/chic-crafty-pom-poms-for-party-and-home-decorating/cute-diy-pom-poms-with-striking-colors-for-cheerful-decoration/

Final thoughts
I like trying out new things. I think that sometimes I get caught up in the enthusiasm of something new, and my planning skills go down the drain. Some of my best lessons have been a result of trying out something new, something out of the ordinary. So, go ahead, plan a nutty lesson (emphasis on plan).

I enjoyed writing this post and I hope you liked reading it. Please do share some of the unusual stuff you have tried out in class. I would really like to hear some of your stories.

Till next time....

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The poster presentation

   End of the year event for my young learners

                     The poster presentation project

So, it is that time of year again. The end of the academic year is right around the corner and you may be thinking, "what can I do at the end of the year with my students?" How about holding a poster presentation event?
I did this with my students two years ago and they loved it.

What is a poster presentation?
If you have been to a conference or taught on a pre sessional English course, you probably know what it is, but for those who haven't, a poster presentation is when somebody makes a poster and then talks about it. I first attended a poster presentation when I was working at Newcastle University as a pre sessional EAP tutor. My postgraduate students had to make a project based on an idea related to their research project, they then presented their projects to their classmates, and finally answered questions related to their posters/projects.

Making the poster presentation suitable for my young learners.
After seeing how this works in the EAP context, I thought, "Why not try it with my younger learners?" and I did!Here is what happened!

STEPS before the end of the year poster presentation event.
1.Each class chose a theme. My students chose to write projects with the following titles:
  • the things I like
  • music
  • chocolate
  • space
  • the sea world
  • the hip hop culture
2. After choosing a group theme, my students had to find pictures and information about something related to their theme. For example, in the sea world project, each student had to find information related to a sea animal.
3. When they each wrote their own texts and found pictures, we looked at their texts and made any corrections that were necessary. My students then rewrote their texts on colourful paper which they then stuck to a bigger cardboard sheet. The end product was a colourful poster full of students' contributions and pictures (scroll down to view some images).
4. Once the poster projects were ready, the students prepared little mini presentations based on their texts and they all collaborated so as to be able to give a whole presentation based on their theme. Each student spoke for about a minute and they decided on when each of them would speak. They rehearsed their presentations quite a few times until they felt comfortable presenting.
5. A few days before the event, the students were given invitation cards to give to their parents.

On the day of the event.
The parents came to my language school and went to all the classrooms and heard all the students presenting their projects. The students got lots of rounds of applauds and there were a lot of smiles going around. All the parents voted for the best two presentations and at the end of the event the project with the most votes got a toy cup. All the students got a certificate of participation and a little present. We ended the day with drinks and snacks.

Why will I do this again?
First of all, the students and parents are asking me if we will do it again because they really enjoyed it. So, that's one good reasong to hold such an event again.
I also appreciated the fact that my students researched themes they liked, were able to talk a bit about them, did group work and prepared a project with a lot of enthusiasm.

What would I change?
I would make a little map of the language school and write down which group is in which class.This will make it easier for the parents to know where their kids are. I would change the voting system to three votes (cause with the previous system, all the parents voted only for their children. Now, they will have one extra vote). At this point, I would like to say that I asked the parents to vote for the best projects so the whole event could be a bit more challenging for the learners and it does serve as some form of assessment. I had a group that was not very motivated last time, but this year they are already telling me," Miss, we are going to try harder because our project was not well-prepared last year." I would also get the students to ask each other questions about their projects so they feel more comfortable talking about their projects. I will ask my learners and the parents to give feedback about the event and my stduents to reflect on the whole process as well. I am really interested in seeing what they think of the whole process, the stages and so on.

This is a great end of the year event (you can even do it with just one class). I really think you should give it a shot!

 Till next time...
EAP poster presentation. Newcastle University 2012

                                        2012 Poster presentation at my language school

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why am I studying at 38?!?!

Why am I still studying at 38?!?!

Every single decision we make regarding our career, every single diploma, certificate or degree we get, defines us as teachers. I am a firm believer of whatever we learn, even the most useless piece of information, may be useful in the future. It may open a window where a door has closed. So, this is me, talking about some of my choices, the teachers I met, and how they have made me the teacher I am today. Am I a a grand educator? Nope. Am I trying to improve? Definitely!

I spent my childhood in Sydney and moved to Greece when I was thirteen I did not speak much Greek at the time, I thrived in English though, so it was only natural that I studied the language. I got a B.A in English language and Philology. My minor was linguistics and my major was literature. After four years at uni, I thought, "Ok, now I can teach!" It is what the  ministry of education says anyhow. Most of my modules were theoretical and I didn't have much practical knowledge or was I observed during the course but "hey, I got my degree" so "yeap, I could teach" and I did for a few years. Then, I felt that I needed to learn something new, my degree was not enough after all, so I decided to do a Master's of Education in TESOL. I was lucky enough to have a great supervisor, Dr. Nicos Sifakis, during my final year and a person who still helps me when I ask him something. I finished my M.Ed. and thought again, " Now, I have a Master's degree... I am a researcher.. I know loads... I am going to be a Queen Bee in my classes". It was easier to find jobs and I felt much more comfortable in my classes. My M.Ed. actually gave me the courage to apply for pre sessional EAP courses and I got my first job working at Newcastle University during the summer of 2011. EAP courses in the UK were a whole new experience. I had great managers, Darran Shaw and Nicky Collins, who believed in me, and helped me a lot, and lovely colleagues who now are dear friends. I also met my lovely friend Deirdre at Newcastle. She introduced me to Wefit solutions, where I am currently teaching Business English online. This is a whole new experience.
Newcastle was also the place where I heard about the Delta for the first time but remember, I was a super duper teacher now with an MA so.. did I really need the Delta?
After long talks with colleagues, and seeing the requirements and reading lists, I decided to do it. And I did. I passed module one by myself and then took a blended online course at CELT with Marisa Constantinides.   Apart from all the great things I learnt during this course,the observations, the feedback, Marisa got me into blogging and tweeting. Blogging allows me to just keep talking : P and tweeting is a way to stay informed and meet lovely people, grow my PLN. I also met Angeliki, my Skype support buddy and the person who got me interested in TESOL conventions (my first presentation ever was at TESOL Greece, this year!), Lia, who is the person who shares stuff with me all the time, and Ola who said, " Go Jo! You can do it" when I was on the verge of giving up cause I was too tired to continue studying. I didn't quit. I passed module two and will be taking a little break before module 3 cause I need a break people!
Now what? Now, I know that I still have things to learn. I want to do a Business English trainers course as soon as possible and I am also thinking of doing a PhD.
Why? As I said at the beginning, you may be the best teacher in the world, but ELT changes and you got to keep up. What you, as a professional choose to study and invest your time and money on, will only help you excel. You cannot lose! So, continual professional development it is! You also need to be open to meeting people and learn from your colleagues! Be open to people and keep your antennas up for study opportunities!

                                    Picture credits: http://arcsofia.org/node/393

There are many people who I met during my studies and work but unfortunately I cannot fit everyone in a blog post. It is wordy enough as it is... : )

Till next time.....

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Students choosing material

Students choosing the material... a Do or a Don't?

I asked my C1 level students the other day to choose some articles they would like to read and use in class and then it hit me... is this a good idea or a bad idea? Well, in this case (the first stage of this choose your own material part of my C1 sessions) it was a great idea cause my learners sent me some really interesting articles : ), on issues I did not think they were interested in! I am providing the links: 

Why get your students to choose articles they want to read and talk about?

1. They are online 24/7 anyway (well, mine are!) so getting them to do one more thing online is not really asking for too much on their part.
2. They will have to read a few things before they actually send you the article (or atleast I hope they will...) and truth be told the more they read, the better! The more exposure they have to reading texts, articles in this case the better. Even just reading a headline can be helpful!
3. They choose articles they find appealing. This means that they will be more motivated to:
  • find unknown words.
  • present a short summary of what they read/ talk and elaborate about something THEY are interested in.
  • use their article as part of another task like a project.
4.  Authentic material like newpaper articles, give them exposure to real language. It may be dense in language they are unfamiliar with, full of colloqualisms, idiomatic expressions etc but it is a great opportunity for them to learn new words if they come accross something they are interested in. On the plus side, they will feel great content when they manage to understand a real web article.

Things to be careful of:

1. Give your learners some sort of word limit. You don't want some of your learners bringing in a mega giga article and the rest itsy bitsy ones!
2. Ask them to send you the link to the article before they bring it into class so you can check it for any inappopritae material. You may also want to make some further reading tasks, vocabulary tasks and so on. Having the articles beforehand is useful for you as a teacher.
3. Choosing articles may be better for students who have a good control of language. Students who are not above intermediate level will probably struggle when given authentic articles. Instead of being motivated they may end up being discouraged.
4. Give your students clear instructions as to what you want them to do with the article. In my case i told my students to read the article and prepare a short oral summary of what the article says. I also told them to make word cards with their unknown words on one side and the explanation on the other. As homework, and after we have read the articles in class, I am also going to ask them to write their own reading comprehension questions based on the text and we will revisit these articles+ their reading comprehension questions in the next lesson.

Screenshot of newmap. Link to this website: http://newsmap.jp/

I am really looking forward to this session. I will back with a new post about how it went.

Till next time.....