In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

June 25, 2018
by annavarna
1 Comment

New beginnings

Hello dear readers

This blog has been inactive for such a long time that some of you may think it has died. But no J, here I am again, teaching and blogging and learning and living. So many things have happened since the last time I wrote in November 2015 and some of them were really hard to digest. Have a look at this list:

  • March 2016 – Terrorist attack in Brussels at the metro station next to the office I was working at the time. Thankfully I was out of the metro 10 minutes before the explosion. Other people were not that lucky.
  • June 2016 – Graduation from AC Accredited Coaching course
  • October 2016 – Serious accident of my daughter in Greece which almost killed her. She is now alive but still undergoing therapies.
  • October 2016 – relocation in Larissa, Greece because of the above. Indefinite leave without pay from work.
  • January 2017 – started offering volunteer lessons in a rehabilitation community for people with drug problems. Found consolation to teaching adults and becoming a role model for them.
  • May 2017 – return to work in primary education in the prefecture of Karditsa.
  • September 2017 – back to the school of my appointment with my beloved colleagues. Difficulty in adjusting to working with children again, combining work and mother duty, taking care of a disabled person.
  • October 2017 – new and young colleagues enter our school and bring enthusiasm with them. Great things come from collaborating with them
  • December 2017- Reactivated the school library. Asked for help from friends and colleagues for new books. Got a great package from the American Embassy. 
  • December 2017 – travel to Rhodes after almost two years without seeing my parents. Extremely moving moments of reunion.
  • February 2018 – followed blended training on teaching English with new technologies with a charismatic trainer who inspired me again
  • March 2018 – joined two groups of teachers in my area: Teachers for Europe and English Language teachers of Larissa. Got elected in the board of the latter. Working with teachers and meeting with them regularly makes my days lighter and more inspired.
  • April 2018 – followed training on teaching adults and enjoyed the process of writing teaching scenarios for adults (below you can find an example of a plan about Shakespeare)
  • April 2018 – co- organized a series of activities for encouraging Reading for Children
  • June 2018 – My first full teaching year after 5 years in Brussels comes to an end. I feel exhausted but also proud I have made it to the end. I feel I could have done many more things with my students and I look forward to the next year.

Now that I’m writing this year long journal I am reflecting upon my work, as it always happens when we write. Why has this year been especially difficult for me? What were the factors that helped me get through and may even do something pedagogically valid?

The answers are never easy and straight forward. Like our lives, which are especially Volatile, Uncertain, Complicated and Ambiguous at the moment, our teaching lives are influenced by what happens around us. Even when we go into the classroom with the best intentions we carry with us our problems, our tiredness, our worries as we carry our knowledge, our philosophy, our experience, our love. It is true that my personal family life had a huge influence on my teaching life this year. It is also true that working with children, being motivated by new and old colleagues, learning new things, trying new skills has deeply enriched my family life too.

Now it is summer time. I have more time to reflect further on teaching, to prepare my lessons for next year, to update this blog, to read more from educators I admire, to write more. I hope this post is the beginning of a new period of meeting at the crossover between pedagogy and philosophy. I hope we will keep meeting in virtual and real spaces in order to inspire each other!






November 23, 2015
by annavarna

TESOL France 2015 – Paris and the English Teachers

It is about 10 days since the horrible events in Paris, on November 13th. We have all been moved beyond words by what happened there. We don’t even want to start thinking what it must be like for the families who lost their people. Ans despite this, despite the pain, the tears, the unconfessed fear,  life goes on. Although we may have wanted her (life is feminine, obviously) to stop for a while, because this is too much to take, life goes on. She doesn’t care about us. Her aim is just to go on. Nothing stops life. Not even death. Life goes on whether we want it or not.

It was amid these thoughts and after the city where I live in was declared in a state of extreme alert that the annual English Language Teaching even of TESOL France would take place. Only one week after the terrorist attack and the death of 129 people. My parents were calling panicked from Greece, pleading me not to go. My husband, usually cool, was also concerned. I could hear it in the silence that followed my announcement that I would go.

But I felt I had to go. If for nothing else to show our support to the people of TESOL France who had worked so hard the whole year to prepare this event. On Saturday morning, when I arrived at the train station in Gare du Midi, Brussels was almost a deserted city. No metro, no tram, no information. People who had just woken up were wondering what is happening. And me trying to put all the different cables in my carry-on (mobile, laptop, tablet, internet cable just in case WI-FI failed us) and forgetting my toothbrush. C’est pas grave…

Nevertheless, what a pleasure to arrive to a conference once more! What a pleasure to see people you haven’t seen for some years and now they are different people: they had a kid in the meantime, or they lost someone dear, or they divorced but found a new partner. How I love that part of the hugs and the smiles, and the connections being re-connected. It’s the best part of all conferences. And meeting the Greeks, of course! Mind you, there are always Greeks in conferences. And they are probably the people who will drag you to the best food in the area, and make you go late to a couple of sessions, mais c’est pas grave, life is like that, you probably learn more by drinking a couple of wines with your colleagues than by following a presentation.

This time in about 31 hours, I managed to cram in everything: presentations of other people, a funny plenary, a lunch with amazing French food in a local restaurant where everybody else was French, discussions with participants, learning about new mobile applications (Socrative and Kahoot – thanks Iria for the crash course), attending a presentation that could change radically the way we think about questions in our classes (check out @studiomentals on twitter and his site) , gave my own presentation with very positive feedback, saw Les Galleries Lafayette for the first time and saw the amazing exhibition about prostitution in Paris at the Orsay Museum. 31 hours well spent!

So below you can find the updated link to my presentation to include some of the things I added. Further down a sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth about the teachers learners remember which resonates what we were saying during the presentation. It was great meeting you all people – looking forward to connecting with you online and offline!

Sylvia Duckworth: Find all her wonderful sketchnotes here:



May 14, 2015
by annavarna

No brains will be harmed in the process

I don’t remember exactly when I started reading about neuroscience and learning. I don’t even remember which was my first book. But I remember that when I came here in Brussels I wanted urgently to understand, remember, revisit my readings on language acquisition. I brought with me the books of Lightbown and Spada (How languages are learned) and reread part of the Ellis book (Second language acquisition). I still found them interesting after all these years but a bit too technical. I needed something more practical. I read again the book on motivation by Dornyei. And then I did what was my first mooc online (but then it wasn’t called a mooc J  and it wasn’t so massive) and I got interested in critical thinking and thinking in general so from there it was a short step to brain sciences and cognitive sciences.


By then, neuroscience was becoming ubiquitous. You could see articles about it in the New York Times, covers in The National Geographic, advertisements, TV series and the whole nine yards. More and more books came out, specializing in neuroscience in schools, in the class, in language learning. TED has a whole series of videos making reference to it. All the conferences I have attended the last two years have had talks about it. It’s like a craze, it’s the flavor of the month. And still, I think there is so much to learn that I never tire of it.


So, this year I took my personal big step and started thinking about creating a talk out of the things I had understood about neuroscience and how it can be related to language teaching. In October I gave a short online talk about it for the Larissa English Teachers’s association and in December I proposed a fuller version for the BELTA day (Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association) and I was accepted. I gave this talk on April 25th and there was a lot of interest about it. The people who attended were asking pertinent questions and they seemed to be genuinely interested and entertained by it J. I hope that I gave them some insights into our brains and as I had promised I didn’t do any harm!

I promised I would put online the prezi and that the discussion would continue here. As I said on that day, I do not purport to be a neuroscientist and I may have made mistakes. By all means, tell me so and I’ll try to correct them. I know that the Prezi itself without the notes is not self explanatory but it can give you some good resources to search further. And if you want to hear all the details about it, well, come to see me in another conference!

Special thanks to James, Mieke, Helen, John, Jurgen, Joris, the tireless BELTA team, of which I am a proud member.

brain hat

sketchnote christina

(the sketchnote of my talk, courtesy of Christina Rebuffet Broadus – thanks Christina, it’s amazing)

October 25, 2014
by annavarna

Poetry in class observations

I currently work in a large public organisation with one of the biggest language learning sectors of the world. To give you an idea let me just tell you that we organise language courses for about 12.000 people yearly and we offer as well 3.000 eLearning licenses. We subcontract a small army of 180 teachers and we teach 28 different languages.

One of my tasks in this dream job for any language lover, is to follow the work of these teachers and make suggestions on the methodology used in the classroom. That poses the challenge that I often have to follow classes that teach a language I do not know. This is what I would like to write about today.

Class observation on its own is a very sensitive issue in teaching. I have experienced it from both sides and I would like to share my views. I know that many colleagues feel strongly about it, I have seen very negative reactions toward the observer and I think it is a great pity.

First of all, I hope that you will all agree that when an external observer sees a piece of our work they can have a more objective opinion about it. It could be a dish of pasta, or the cleaning of a room or a short story we have written, it could be whatever. When we are involved in making our judgement is blurred – we are nothing but emotional creatures, don’t forget that. I also personally have great issues when someone “criticizes” my work and if I have cleaned the house for 5 hours, you’d better not tell me that I have missed a spot on the umpteenth bookshelf! I wouldn’t be the Anna you know J. On the other hand I must admit that, I have indeed missed a spot. This is what the other person is telling me, they are not passing a judgement on me, they do not love me less because of it and most of all they do not say that I am a bad house cleaner because of the missed spot.

With time I have grown to see teaching in similar terms and every time I have had someone observe a class or teach a class with me, I have learned great things! I have had nasty experiences of observation too. In one of my first jobs, my boss used to monitor what we were saying via a loudspeaker installation and later she would comment on our pronunciation! Let’s say that this was a negative example of “observation”. But during the best examples of this practise I didn’t feel threatened at all, quite the contrary. Many of my fellow teachers back in Greece where quick to come with the argument: “I don’t want to be observed, why doesn’t the advisor give us a model lesson demonstration instead”. “Who is this person that is going to observe me? Do they think they are better than me?” I think that these are defensive arguments. The person feels threatened and reacts in a “fight or flight” way. That’s why the way the observer is going to proceed with the observation is of great importance.

This is what I have learned these two years I’ve been here and I have been visiting classes: go into the classroom with acceptance and respect for your colleague. Explain beforehand why you are visiting their class and what you want to achieve by this. And afterwards share what you have observed as honestly as you can. This last part may be the most difficult. It’s not easy to say to people that something has gone wrong or that something needs improvement. Going into a classroom with an open mind means that you leave behind your assumptions about what is right and what is wrong. Different personalities have different way of teaching and although we can agree there are some standards that cannot be negotiated, there is also a lot of margin for creativity and differentiation.


Anatol Knotek,, a visual poet from Austria. Check his blog:

Time is also important. I remember the time I visited one French class as an observer and the first 15 minutes I was shocked by the attitude of the teacher. “What is this arrogant style I was thinking? Why does everyone seem so frozen in his class? Why does he correct mistakes as if the world has ended?” I could hardly hold myself but I persisted. The teacher relaxed. I could see him changing in front of my eyes. The class was relaxing with him as well. It was like a dance, a mirroring exercise. After half an hour more or less, I could see the real dynamics of the team. The leader had his own particular style, very different from mine, but still very effective and I must say very interesting. What I perceived as coldness in the beginning was only his nervousness because of the presence of an intruder. Because this is what an observer does: they “intrude” a system, a sensitive system and what they observe is never the “real” thing. They are bound therefore to disrupt unintentionally this system.

So these are my formal observations from classroom observations. I’d like to give you some informal ones too. A few days ago I went to a poetry reading organised by EUNIC (European network of institutions of culture) with 5 poets from different countries. We heard poems in three of the languages I speak and two more in unknown languages for me: Turkish and Esthonian. I was so moved by both of them! For the Turkish I also had the translation so you could say that it was the content that did this to me. But for the Esthonian I had no idea what she was talking about. I only knew that the title of the poem was Love. And still I could feel the emotions of this strong woman in my bones.

This is how I often feel when I observe a teacher whose language I don’t speak: I observe the teaching itself, the core pedagogy without being distracted by the content. I can see the movements of the teacher, I can observe the web of interactions that is being developed, I can see in real time what I have been reading about: teachers usually address people who are on their right side much more that the ones on their left. I can see if the teacher is tired, hungry or full of energy. I can see if the teacher feels passionate about his job, if they savour the words of their language. I can see if there is a balance of skills practised, if people cooperate, if they trust their leader. And let me tell you: sometimes it is pure poetry what those teachers are doing!

My friends are telling me: “But you know Anna, you have no idea what the teacher is saying to the students in Danish. Maybe she is talking nonsense and she has asked the students to not tell on her and participate by speaking nonsense too”. It is very possible, my friends, but if nothing else it makes a great language lesson!


(Extra: In #eltchat the topic was discussed extensively and this what teachers around the world think about it)

What is best practice for observing teachers – #ELTchat summary

(Extra 2: The poem from the English-Turkish poet Alev Adil: Baggage )

June 9, 2014
by annavarna
1 Comment

Exams and why we must revolt

It’s June. For people without kids it’s the time the weather gets better and they can start hitting the beaches of their countries. Or those of their neighbours’. For those with kids under the age of 8 or 9 (depending where you leave) it’s still a good time, enjoy it while you can good people. For the rest of us with kids between the ages of 8 and 22 (depending where you live) it’s that time of the year again. Yeap, it’s exam time. If you come from a country like Greece you have probably been conditioned to talk on the first person plural when it comes to exams: “We have an exam in Ancient Greek tomorrow, so we can’t join you to the beach, sorry”. Even if you aren’t such a helicopter parent, you probably worry about how your children are doing. It is possible also that you like me are fed up with seeing them learn useless things. You may have hired private help to tutor your kids, or may be spending hours helping them to revise for the exams. Whatever is the way you approach this in your family, I am pretty sure you think there is something genuinely wrong with the system.

The last few days, I have been seeing various posts from friends and fellow educators in my timelines. One of them still resonates with me after a few days. He was saying: “marks (at school) can say nothing about a child’s effort, critical thinking, cooperation, curiosity, respect, politeness, ability to love, emotional and social intelligence, honesty and so much more…”  At first sight it seems like a parent’s gentle complaint that his child is not seen as a whole human being at school. But I think the problem goes deeper than that and we parents/educators have a hard time balancing our roles. On the one hand we have to help our kids excel at a system which is far from ideal. And as educators we understand that the system is so outdated, so distorted, so not preparing our kids and our students for tomorrow’s world that sometimes you feel like banging your head on the wall.

At least there are people out there who feel the same and they are encouraging us to do something, to not keep quiet. To scream instead of banging our heads. To talk to our colleagues, to our children’s school directors, to other parents, to our kids, to our students. One such person is Will Richardson. I know Will from twitter and has been following him and his education tweets for years. Two days ago I bought his short book Why School? and I was fascinated with it. I have highlighted big parts of it and at every page, I was thinking, this makes so much sense. Will explains very clearly how insufficient the work that is happening in schools right now is in preparing students for a future world. Things you may have heard from Ken Robinson or Clay Shirky or even John Dewey are summarized in a really lucid way so that I strongly recommend this essay to all educators and policy makers out there.


The following extract is the one I originally shared on Facebook and it seemed that many people found it relevant: “ The important irony is that test scores tell us little, if anything about our children’s preparedness for future success in a fast-changing world. A recent IBM survey of CEOs asked them to name the most crucial factor for future success, and their answers had nothing to do with state assessments, SAT scores, or ven Advanced Placement Tests. Instead they cited creativity and “managing the growing complexity of the world”. I can’t find a state or local test currently in use that captures our kids’ mastery in those two areas. You?”

Another extract ”Connecting and learning with other people online, distinguishing good information from bad, creating and sharing important works with the world: None of that (and a whole bunch of other stuff I could mention) is on the test. And sadly, therefore, we don’t value it. It finds no place in our classrooms.”

But of course how can we teachers go on to teach our students these things when we cannot do them ourselves. When we keep on creating tests that are about content (content that is dead, that people can find in 30 seconds) and not about critical ability about cooperation about creation. When we do not ourselves collaborate with our peers in creating new content.

My fellow educators back in Greece, complain heavily and resist the (don’t-know-what-is going-on) government’s efforts to impose teacher assessment. I don’t agree at all with the way this is implemented and I know how unprepared the educational world is for that. But I think the problem is elsewhere: the Greek government as governments all over the world, as the American government for that matter,  insist on trying to make things “better” by placing the blame on teachers, by weakening teachers, by focusing on test results. The point is we have to make things completely differently, otherwise in a few years’ time we will be so obsolete we will disappear.  As Richardson cleverly notes: “In a nutshell, proponents of this view believe that education can be improved by identifying and getting rid of the teachers whose students underperform on the test, by privatizing schools and by “personalizing” the curriculum via computers that deliver content and problems to individual kids based on their assessed skill level.”

Our vision should be focusing on learning, on preparing students to become good learners, on teaching them how to create their own networks, developing good habits of questioning what is served to them as truth. If you are a teacher, maybe you should start wondering how you can do that in your class. If you are a parent, maybe you should start questioning if this is happening in your child’s classroom. If you are both, you are the first one that has to react.

Courage to all parents, students and teachers out there, going through exam period, one more time. And courage to me who is writing this just to procrastinate from studying for (yet) another French exam J.

For some fun check this test created by a teacher in a religious school in the USA where everything you think you knew would be marked wrong. Because there is hope in this world, the school closed since the test was given due to lack of funding. You can read the whole story here: Science Test


May 18, 2014
by annavarna

CLIL from parent’s point of view

One reason I haven’t been writing much in this blog lately is that I am quite busy with helping my daughter with her schoolwork. I know this isn’t how it should be and I totally support an educational system where students don’t even have homework.

But life isn’t ideal (except maybe in Finland) and here in Brussels at the European School both my daughter and me we become daily exasperated by the amount and level of homework.

Let me give you some background details: the European schools are organized around the International Baccalaureate system which is a prestigious certificate for secondary education that supposedly ensures access to the best Universities. But the years leading to this certificate are in my opinion exhausting, allowing little time for creativity or emotional development and hardly cultivating a love for learning. One feature that makes education in European schools different from average schools is that they promote multilingualism and that CLIL (Content Language Integrated Learning) is part of the curriculum for most primary and secondary classes.

Maybe I am biased because my daughter has not been following this system since the beginning and now she finds it hard to get accustomed to it. But even for students that have been in it since their first year, I think something is intricately wrong. I will just mention that during both the parent–teachers meet-ups we had , the adage was how difficult it is going to be this year and how demanding it is and how we have to stress to our children to get serious. As if they weren’t serious enough. There was only one (1) teacher who mentioned as her objective “students should learn to love History”.

I am not going to bother you with all the ups and downs we have had this year. I have seen my daughter become a much more efficient learner than she was a few years ago and I thank her excellent teachers for that. But I have also seen her cry inconsolably because she thinks she is stupid and sees no light ahead of her. Now that the summer approaches I try to forget the latter and remember the former.

But I wanted to mention the pros and cons of a CLIL approach from the point of view of a parent this time. And give some tips to teachers who are already practicing it or thinking of engaging in it.

Firstly I must say that I am persuaded that CLIL helps improvement of language skills through the teaching of a different subject. I have read the studies that give the first results and the relevant criticism. What I am not sure myself is how long you have to do it to see these results and what CLIL does to the comprehension of the subject itself.


In any case this is what I think teachers should think carefully of, before starting their CLIL adventure:

–          Make sure the linguistic level of the subject is only slightly above that of the students. If students have to face an enormous corpus of unknown lexis, this really discourages and frustrates them. Not to mention that it sets them back.

–          Don’t take for granted that course materials created for native speakers will be appropriate for your students.

–          Make sure you adopt a cooperative approach in class. We all know the value of learning in teams but in CLIL classes I think it is even more important. Students will feel less threatened when they see that others face the same difficulties as them.

–          Try to explain your concepts in various ways: say them orally, paint a diagram or a drawing, ask students to explain them in their own words.

–          Ask students to reconstruct information. Don’t ask questions that only rely on memory but ones that need some critical ability as well.

–          If you expect your students to do some assignments try to explain these clearly at the beginning. If you think they will have to work at home, let parents know. In general explaining to your parents how you intend to work should be crucial.

–          Explain the evaluation procedure up front. Surprises aren’t always happy!

–          When parents come to see you worried because their offspring is not doing well in your subject don’t be arrogant and don’t try to persuade them that you are doing everything right and there is something wrong with their kid. Even if you ARE doing everything right, dear Teacher. Try a little empathy, as the song says…

Reading back what I have written, which is a compilation of things that went exceptionally well or badly in our situation, I realize that all these recommendations apply for any lesson in any school, not just CLIL classrooms. But there is one more reason that it is imperative to do everything right in a CLIL classroom: your students will already be anxious when they come into your CLIL class, try to remember that. If you, yourself are a native speaker of the language in which you teach, please remember they aren’t. Try to remember that every time you go into the class. Please. I promise you that they will learn more this way!





March 11, 2014
by annavarna

Ever wondered how people learn?


Picturebook by L.C. Perry

This blog has been inactive for a long time for various reasons that have to do with work, work and work. But I have been writing a few things lately (for work) and I thought I could share one of them. There are about 30,000 employees in the European Commission (my current workplace), most of them what we call knowledge workers and as you can imagine the issue of how they learn and how best they can share their knowledge is crucial. This is a short piece I wrote for the internal publication, “Commission en Direct”,  summarizing what I have learned the last years about learning itself. I am not in a position to give a comprehensive bibliography and I was restricted to use online resources and books I could find in our internal library. Still I think the indicative titles can give you a starting point.

Here it is. my take about how people learn. I hope you won’t be alienated by the serious writing style 🙂

People have been trying to understand learning for well over 2,000 years. However, today’s developments in neuroscience, cognitive psychology and the use of technology are shedding new light on how our brains work and what this means for our personal and professional learning.

The importance of learning in the professional – or on-the-job – context is undisputable and it may be what makes the difference between successful and unsuccessful businesses. As the researchers Jake Reynolds, Lynne Caley and Robert Mason (2002) have noted, “an organisation’s human capital – the knowledge, skills, competencies, relationships and creativities invested in its people – has emerged as a key competitive factor”.

In this introductory article about how people learn, we look at some of the key ideas about learning nowadays and their implications for our professional lives.

Learning and our brain

We now know that our brain has a quality referred to as ‘plasticity’, which means that it keeps changing even at a very old age. Contrary to what was believed in the past, brain development is lifelong, and not predetermined at birth or within the first three years. There are periods of our life that are critical for some kinds of learning, but in general, as [Paul Jones (2009) states: “throughout life, the brain is plastic and its connectivity, functionality and even structure are influenced by experience, including educational experience”. Learning changes the physical structure of the brain through the process of continuous interactions between the learner and the external environment.

Contextual learning

The influential Lev Vygotsky was one of the first scientists to develop the idea that all learning occurs in a cultural context and involves social interactions. Now, we know that learning is a process of drawing connections between what is already known or understood and new information. Thus, prior knowledge is important to the learning process. People make connections and draw conclusions based on a sense of what they already know and have experienced. This means that in order to learn anything new we have to anchor it to something we already know. Teachers, trainers or our peers can help us to make sense of information by providing conceptual maps.

Mistakes’ added value

Mistakes are essential when it comes to learning. They mean that we act, experiment and evolve. As the American organisational behaviour specialist David Kolb says, essentially all learning is relearning. Of course, it all depends on how this culture of experimentation is supported at work. “Organisations that allow failure also provide the conditions necessary to support natural learning and innovation”. (Reynolds, Caley and Mason 2002).

Social and informal learning

Much learning occurs in groups and among individuals engaged in tasks together. People learn from each other as well as from experts. Learning opportunities in social contexts enable people to learn together and retain more of what they learnt. One noteworthy find of various studies is that “70% of what people know about their jobs, they learn informally from the people they work with” (Cross, 2007). Marcia Conner also mentions that “most learning doesn’t occur in formal training programs. It happens through processes not structured or sponsored by an employer or a school. Informal learning accounts for over 75 percent of the learning taking place in organizations today”

Learning with your heart 

Both thoughts and emotions shape the learning process. Metacognitive skills —being able to think about and monitor one’s own thinking — enable learners to manage their own learning process, to learn difficult new concepts, and to problem-solve effectively. Emotions also play a role – when we are anxious, depressed, or distracted, we cannot focus to process information. Therefore creating emotionally safe learning environments can enhance our learning experiences and improve our retention.

To sum up, contemporary learning theories – influenced by new developments in neuroscience and cognitive psychology as well as the use of new technologies – recognise the role of experience and reflection in the development of ideas and skills. Different objectives require different kinds of learning. As a result, the role of teachers is changing and, to be successful, individual learners need to take greater ownership of their own learning. And this is also in organisations’ interests.


Marcia Conner,

Jay Cross, ‘Informal Learning’ (2007)

Linda Daling Hammond, Kim Austin, Suzanne Orcutt and Jim Rosso, ‘How People Learn: Introduction to Learning Theories’ (2001)

Eleanor Dommett, Ian Devonshire & Richard Churches, ‘Learning and the Brain’ (2011)

Paul Howard Jones, Neuroscience, learning and technology (14-19), Becta, (2009) (

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Jake Reynolds, Lynne Caley and Robin Mason, ‘How do people Learn?’ (2002)

Lev Vygotsky


October 6, 2013
by annavarna
1 Comment

Cold feet, RSCON4 and other things

Today was the day that I worked most on my presentation at the RSCON4. The 2013 Reform Symposium for education is an online conference that will take place next weekend (11-13 of October). Some of the most important educators are taking part in it. They come from all fields and not only from English Language Teaching. And it is completely free, you can attend it without spending anything, wearing your pajamas or your high heels, eating pop corn or drinking coffee!

A few years ago I had tried to participate again but because of professional overload I backed out. Then the next two years I was in a turmoil involving big changes in professional and personal life and somehow lost it. This year, Shelly Terrell, one of the most active educators I personally know, motivated me to apply again and here I am, getting ready to do it.

I have a confession to make: this morning at about 10, I had worked a bit on it (I had started preparing a Prezi a few days ago) I was reading the checklist the organizers sent us and I got cold feet. “it’s too much”, “Why are you doing this? Isn’t your life full enough already?” and the scariest one “Nobody’s gonna be interested in what you have to say” the voices inside me were telling me. And I knew that I could find a credible excuse (too much work, which is true but didn’t keep me from applying) and that there are so many presenters, no one would miss me especially.

But then I dealt with my fear, I spoke to it and I told him (Fear is male in Greek): Hey, you’re trying to keep me out of this, because I haven’t done it before and it needs work. But what’s the worst that can happen? That I give this presentation and only my friend Olga is there. So what? I have survived much worse than this!

A few minutes later the above mentioned Olga called, and told me about a beautiful speech by the mayor of Thessaloniki talking about his own fears and how he fought with them and I felt I was now obliged to go on. Once I finish this project I will volunteer to translate the video in English because it is really worth watching it no matter what you do and where you are from. Mr Boutaris is an iconic mayor of Greece and one of the few political personalities we still believe in…

Back to RSCON4: My biggest fear comes from the fact that for the last year and a half I have been so much out of my comfort zone, doing things so different from I was doing until then that sometimes I feel totally out of my league. This time I don’t have a specific classroom project to tell you about. I’m not even in the classroom anymore. But I thought that telling you a bit about what it is like to work in a team that coordinates language teaching for about 12,000 people every year, who learn 29 different languages, using three different modes of learning (classic face2face, blended and eLearning) might be of interest to you.

On top of it I wanted to tell you about how going back to the classroom to learn (or rather relearn) a language changes my perspective towards teachers and learners every day. Back at school I had learned French and even have the necessary certificates to prove it. But only when you go into a professional meeting with French speaking IT specialists designing a new LMS do you realise how much you have forgotten and how imbecile you sound and how much embarrassed you feel, and how much you identify with all your students back home… And you embrace yourself and start studying “La Subjonctif” again…


These are more or less the things I’m going to talk about on Saturday. I’ll throw in a few things about where language learning is going, the added value of Cultural Institutes and how finding new identities for ourselves can help us face our fears. If you want to learn more about all these, connect to your laptop or tablet or PC, on Saturday 12th of October at 18.00 CET. But even more important, try to catch as many of the presentations of the other educators who will be talking to you for three days. Because we still believe in education and we think that we can make a difference!

April 1, 2013
by annavarna

Είσαι νέος το ξέρω…

Μια ανάρτηση στα Ελληνικά. Αφιερωμένη εξαιρετικά στους μαθητές που με άκουσαν σήμερα 🙂 

Είναι ένας χρόνος σχεδόν που έφυγα από την Ελλάδα για τις Βρυξέλλες. Στη νέα μου δουλειά ασχολούμαι και πάλι με την εκμάθηση των γλωσσών αλλά όχι από τη θέση της δασκάλας πια αλλά από τη θέση της συμβούλου, της συντονίστριας, της παιδαγωγού. Αν και η λέξη παιδαγωγός δεν ταιριάζει και πολύ γιατί ασχολούμαι με ενήλικες. Όμως στα Γαλλικά, pedagogue, είναι κάτι σαν υπεύθυνος σπουδών, υπεύθυνος για το περιεχόμενο των μαθημάτων και την ποιότητα τους. Αυτό κάνω εκεί.

Έχω μάθει πολλά πράγματα αυτό το χρόνο που είμαι εκεί. Έχω μάθει πως λειτουργεί μια τεράστια δημόσια υπηρεσία στην υπηρεσία του πολίτη: κυρίως με πολλή διαφάνεια. Έχω μάθει τί είναι σημαντικό όταν κοιτάζουμε τα βιογραφικά των ανθρώπων που θα προσλάβουμε: κυρίως αν αυτά που γράφουν είναι σχετικά με τη θέση.  Έχω μάθει τί προσέχουν όταν προσλαμβάνουν νέα παιδιά για τα τρίμηνα ή εξάμηνα stage: οι γλώσσες και η συμμετοχή σε σχετικές με τη θέση δραστηριότητες. Έχω μάθει τί έχει σημασία όταν βγαίνεις να δουλέψεις σε άλλη χώρα και μάλιστα σε ένα διεθνή οργανισμό: η προσαρμοστικότητα περισσότερο από τα πολλά πτυχία.

Και όλα αυτά που έμαθα ήθελα να τα μοιραστώ με αυτούς που νομίζω ότι ενδιαφέρουν περισσότερο. Με αυτούς που σε λίγα χρόνια θα είναι υποψήφιοι για stage στην Ευρωπαϊκή Επιτροπή, για μεταπτυχιακά ή για Εράσμους. Με τα παιδιά που είναι σήμερα στο Γυμνάσιο και το Λύκειο.

Ευτυχώς εδώ στην πόλη μου, οι περισσότεροι φίλοι είναι εκπαιδευτικοί. Η φίλη μου η Μαρία, από το Γυμνάσιο Πλατυκάμπου είχε πρώτη την ιδέα να μιλήσω στους μαθητές του Γυμνασίου στα πλαίσια του Σ.Ε.Π και η φίλη και διευθύντρια του 3ου Λυκείου Λάρισας, Μαρίνα Κολλάτου ενθουσιάστηκε επίσης με την ιδέα. Οπότε σήμερα μίλησα ζωντανά σε ένα κοινό απαιτητικό, 60 περίπου 16χρονοι, γεμάτοι ζωή και απορίες. Είπα τα τρία πράγματα που ήθελα να πω, εκείνοι με άκουσαν και με ρωτούσαν ενδιαφέροντα πράγματα. Οι πιο εσωστρεφείς ήρθαν και με ρώτησαν κατ’ιδίαν στο τέλος. Οι υπόλοιποι ελπίζω να διαβάσουν αυτή την ανάρτηση.

Εσείς μπορείτε να δείτε την παρουσίαση!


December 19, 2012
by annavarna

Farming Style and how to bring it in the classroom

This is for all my former colleagues in Karditsa and Larissa

In 2005 I first arrived to work in a school in rural Karditsa. I am not at all a city girl, I grew up in various little places with many different accents, from mainland Lamia and whereabouts to Rhodes with its characteristic singing intonation and Italianati diction that so confused me when I was a kid. But nothing had prepared me for the first day of assembly and common prayers in Karpohori, that small village of 1000 inhabitants: The first time I heard a kid saying the prayer, I thought someone was kidding me. I was looking at the other teachers waiting for them to stop the kid telling her to start again this time with all the vowels included. But no. This was it. Welcome to Karditsa!
TO learn to pronounce the name of that village, the name its inhabitants had been using since 1700 before the Independent Greek State gave it something sounding a little more Greek and less Turkish, was a challenge too. Try saying Gerbesi without the vowels and you will have an approximation!
But anyway, that year I was so happy to be working as a permanent teacher only 80klm from my home (the previous year I had been working somewhere near the borders with Turkey, 650 klm away) that nothing could curb my enthusiasm. The next year I went to a different village, this time with a pretty easy-to-pronounce name, Itea, which actually means Willow tree and I was even happier. The friends I made in that school, will be forever, no matter where we are…
And since 2006 until May 2012 I was working there. Oh boy, the things I learnt about agriculture and tractors and tools and animals. My posh friends in big cities, laughed at all the cute pictures of ducks and turkeys and cows and sheep I post on Facebook, but secretly I think they envied that every day I had the chance to get out of my ugly city and go to the countryside and enjoy glorious landscapes and endless skies!
One of the highlights of my time there was when we opened our first student e-mail accounts and I encouraged them to write to me. That was pre-FB times when people sent e-mails to each other! So the first e-mail my student Kostas sent to me was this: “Hello teacher. How are you? My favourite tractors are John Deree tractors. What are yours?” As you can see my education on tractor makes had already started!
Back to the present. It’s the year 2012 and Gangnam style has gone viral and is being danced by teenagers and serious eurocrats alike. And my friend Monika sends me this link with a parody of the song.

The Peterson brothers made their version of the song that has gone viral and they hit a nerve! What I like is that they take pride in their work, they talk about it as the most important job on earth and they aren’t wrong. As I remind my daughter every day the person who is putting the food on the table is the chief.
Into our classrooms now. This is a song I would bring in my classroom. I would talk about agriculture with the experts, that is my students, and would discuss what the brothers are doing. I’m sure they would have lots to teach me! Plenty of vocabulary opportunities there. I would also discuss how fresh food is hardly featured in the video. At some point when they are singing about providing food they show a table full of cereal boxes and no fruit or vegetable whatsoever. Plenty of opportunity for critical thinking there and discussion about cultural differences and similarities. With some older classes I could even discuss GM food and the differences between European and American legislation.
And of course there would be lots to discuss about different makes of tractors people!! But even if not much of a conversation in English could take place I am sure we would enjoy the movements.
Now it’s Wednesday morning and I’m getting ready to cycle to work. No teaching for me this year, only observing teachers, designing eLearning courses, checking the quality of courses and so on. But if any teachers out there are inspired by this and they go on to try it I’d love to hear from you people and feature your work here!
Happy Holidays!

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