In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

November 23, 2015
by annavarna
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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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/15664662@N02/22978180771/in/photostream/

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October 6, 2013
by annavarna
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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…

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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!

November 24, 2012
by annavarna
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Critical Thinking and How to Dance it (the making of… )

Last April I started following an online course on Critical Thinking with the University of Oregon and professor Sherie Henderson as our basic moderator. The course opened up a whole new world for me, the world of Critical Thinking and involved a lot of thinking as you can imagine. At times I really struggled to follow it, mostly because it coincided with my relocation to Brussels, with the first month of changing everything: job, city, country. But I survived and learned a lot.

At about that time I was also trying to come up with an idea for a proposal for the 31st TESOL France Colloquium which takes place every year in Paris in mid-November. I had been accepted as a speaker there the previous year as well but hadn’t been able to go due to personal reasons. This year, with Paris being just an hour and a half away I was determined to make it.

So, before long, I put the two together and proposed a talk about how to promote Critical Thinking in the classroom. Little did I know that it would take me months of thinking, tens of books and hundreds of articles and many many hours of tinkering with Prezi to prepare for this presentation. It was the third one in an international Conference and I must say it was the one that tired me most, mostly because it was a vast topic and I was feeling inadequate to handle it. But I dived into it, anyway, like I usually do 🙂 Here is the result:

What I wanted to say was that: We, educators, have the duty to train our students to think more critically, to become good thinkers, to seek reasons and become reflective. It is OUR mission to do so, whether we teach English, Maths or Physical Education. It is not easy but it CAN be done. I hope that with my talk and prezi I have helped a bit to show you where to look for ideas and inspiration.

I would like to take this opportunity, to thank the fantastic team of TESOL France, Bethany Cagnol most of all, but also all the other educators who were there and with their ideas and enthusiasm keep the fire of education alive. Thank you James Taylor, Mieke Kenis, Ellen de Peter, Jurgen, Tyson Seburn, Vicky Loras, Sue Lyon Jones, Elizabeth Ann, Heike Philp, Eva Buyuksimkeysan, Julie Raikou, Vladka Chalyova, Chuck Sandy, Tom Farrell, Chia Suan Chong, Brad Patterson, Fiona Mauchline, Divya Brochier, Jeffrey D0onan, Dimitris Primalis, Nick Michelioudakis, Elinda Gjondendaj and all the others!

P.S. Don’t forget tomorrow morning to attend the brand NEW BELTA’s inauguration webinar! Click here for info http://www.beltabelgium.com/p/events.html

 

 

November 10, 2012
by annavarna
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Critical Thinking and How to dance it in Paris

It’s Saturday morning here in Brussels, it’s rainy as always and a woman is sitting on her couch with a cup of coffee (the second one) and various books and magazines open around her and tens of windows open in her task bar.

This is how I feel right now

Wouldn’t it be better if she stood up grabbed her raincoat and walked to Place Flagey to taste organic breads and confitures and then enjoy a glass of champagne and a plate of moules?

No, no, this woman is determined not to lose focus this Saturday, it’s her last Saturday before she has to take the train to Paris. Oh, la la, Paris…..

I’m diverting again. So, next Saturday, I will be in Paris to participate in the 31st Annual Colloquium of TESOL France. I have to finish my presentation tomorrow at the latest but this is much harder than I expected. Mostly because there are so many good ideas and I have to trim and trim.

But in any case, right now I was reading a beautiful hymn to grammar, yes, grammar that part of Language Instruction that seems to be the scapegoat for all problems in classrooms since the beginning of time. I’ll just quote an extract from this defense because to me it’s like poetry: ” The inner theme of grammar is simplicity, even unity. This is the subtext of the rules: Let all in the sentence be one, let it be clear and agree that the center of the sentence be seen. The works of the sentence must move in harmony, like the wheels of a clock. The subject and the verb must be in agreement, the pronoun and its antecedent must be in agreement, the tenses of the verb in the sentence must be in agreement with each other. Everything being in order, the sentence can depict a truth” (Michael Clay Thompson, The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol XIII, No2, Winter 2002, pp 60-66).

Doesn’t it remind you of John Lennon?

Next Sunday at 10.00 in room B316 at Telecom Paris Tech, we will ponder on ruminations like this and  we will discuss and maybe debate how to best teach grammar and vocabulary to our students and at the same time promote Critical Thinking.

I can’t wait to meet all of you new friends and see again some ones from the past!

Now, I’m feeling better

 

 

April 10, 2011
by annavarna
9 Comments

My weekend at ISTEK

Last year, while I was watching on line the 1st ISTEK International ELT Conference, I promised myself I would be there at the second one. This year I made that promise come true! And I went there and I had the most fantastic time.

I am not very experienced in international conferences, this was actually my third one but it has certainly been the best so far. And the interesting thing is that people who have been to many conferences agree with this opinion. Maybe because it is a manageable conference, where you can attend interesting lectures and workshops and at the same time actually meet people, interact with them and form friendships and connections.
The program of the conference was really enriching and innovative but what was even more satisfying were the discussions that were taking place after each talk or workshop during breakfast, lunch or dinner!
So because I am still intoxicated by Istanbul and its atmosphere let me just list the highlights of this conference as I experienced it.

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– The private phonetics lesson by Dede Wilson during breakfast. Priceless. I have already used one of her activities to the enjoyment of my students.
– The secret of Shelly Terrell and how she manages to do so many things in her life. I am going to reveal all: Shelly hardly sleeps!
– The amazing stories Jan Blake told to a full auditorium and how she engaged her 1000-people audience into acting out sounds and words and phrases. Nobody was afraid to seem silly or childish; we all enjoyed it and admired her talent and commitment.
– The even more amazing bits of her life Jan narrated to us, while walking in Gulhane Park, on the way to catch a boat.
– Giving a short interview to Mark Andrews, our never tiring Roving Reporter.
– Tweeting live during the plenary talks and sitting next to different people each time and learning from them. Thanks Valentina for Hootsuite quick lesson!

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– The discussion with Evridiki on the bus back to Taksim. Vital issues came up: Are (our) ELT gurus getting older or is it just that we are getting more critical of them? Is Facebook as appreciated as twitter or is there a condescending attitude towards it? Do teenage daughters really get dizzy on buses or are they just trying to attract our attention?
– The story of how Nicky’s daughter taught herself to play the guitar through YouTube.
– The late night dinner with delicious pizza we ordered at the dormitory after PechaKucha night. Greek people are infamous late eaters and we proved our reputation right. The good thing was leftover pizza saved us from starvation the next day: anxious for our workshop, Marina and me skipped lunch and coffee and snacks. Thank (any) god for cold pizza!
– Our dancing in Bosphorus!
– Meeting with Joel and Lenka and Julie and discussing our eurolib project, a project I would like to have taken part in, from the beginning. Thank you Joel from bringing me in!
– Joel’s invention of a fountain game!
– Burcu’s organizing, coordinating, motivating and inspiring abilities! What a woman!
– Hospitality at the Conference – we were dined and wined so well we felt like distinguished guests.
– David Hill’s talk on creativity in the classroom. An old skool talk that showed how a teacher can be absolutely captivating even without slides.
– Ania’s workshop on drilling was funny and demanding at the same time! Hard work trying to learn Polish!
– Meeting Arjana, Julie, Eva, Joel, Evridiki, Mark, Rakesh, Ed, Mike, David, Luke, Claire, Elizabeth, Ilia, Ania, Mark, Nick, Helen, Shirley, for the first time in real life. Most of them I had met on line before and real life just proved that the friendships we form on line are usually with like minded people whom we would like to meet face to face as well.

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– Meeting Shelly, Petra, Marisa, Jamie, Gavin, Nicky, Ken, Dede, Sue, Lindsay, Russell, Ozge, Beyza, Burcu, again. I had only met them last year briefly but they already felt like good friends!
– Meeting Sebnem again and sharing her joy about her talented 15-year-old daughter whose film premiered that week in Istanbul!
– Talking with Russell Stunnard and proving once more what a small world this is: we managed to find when our paths had crossed again, many years ago in Seville and we even have a common acquaintance!
– Working with my school advisor, mentor and friend Marina. Thank you for everything!
– Above all: Magnetic, enchanting, colourful, intoxicating Istanbul, metropolis of the south. Teşekkürler!

UPDATED: You can find more accounts about what this phenomenal conference was like here:

David Dogson: 6 Reflections from ISTEK

Mark Andrews: Our star roving reporter keeps uploading videos and reviews from the conference even a week later

(the video we made with Mark on the boat in Bosporus is actually here)

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February 24, 2011
by annavarna
2 Comments

So you want to be a reporter?

I have never met Mark Andrews. But last year one weekend at the beginning of April we were both attending virtually the 1st ISTEK ELT conference in Istanbul and tweeting about it and then blogged about it, each one from our respective countries, him in Hungary and me in Greece. It was a fantastic experience: we weren’t there but we both felt  the electric atmosphere. I remember looking at photographs reading the posts in the various blogs, following the presentations all from my kitchen in Larissa. I was really envious for the people who were actually there and I promised myself that if I went to a conference the next year that would be it.

A few weeks after that I went to the IATEFL 2010 Harrogate conference, my first international conference, the first time I presented at such an audience, a magnificent experience all in all. But to be honest, maybe because I didn’t stay long, maybe because I wasn’t so well connected back then, the social part of the conference seemed to be somewhat lacking in comparison to Istanbul’s. So the desire to go to ISTEK never waned. Not only that but as the organizers kept informing us about the stunning line up of speakers, it kept getting bigger.

Forward one year later, December 2010. Proposals for Istanbul would open soon ( I kept pestering Burcu about that, so I had inside info) and I was stuck for ideas. No matter how many (thinking) hats I put on I wouldn’t come up with anything. But inspiration works in strange ways so during one long drive to Karditsa to attend a presentation of the Finnish Educational System,  I had the idea to suggest to our school advisor to make a proposal together. Before we arrived in Karditsa I had the first idea formed which we later developed and improved.

Forward to last Monday: a message from Burcu telling me that my video for the Roving Reporter Competition was one of the top three submitted, and it was up to the people now to decide who was going to go to the ISTEK as a reporter. ISTEK is going to cover expenses for the Roving Reporter and the Reporter will have to cover the conference, write, blog, or vlog, tweet from there to the best of their abilities.

I can’t begin to describe how happy I felt, how honoured, how enthusiastic! And the company was fantastic too! I don’t know Sabrina yet, I just discovered her blog, but to be in the same group as Mark, this is Serendipity if nothing else!

And another thing: a few hours ago Mark blogged his feelings about this competition. Personally I’m not very competitive, I am more for cooperation and if I could I would send all three of us to Istanbul. But he says something about this being like taking part in X-Factor or some other show like this that I want to comment on: Whenever I have watched programs of this kind I usually make fun of how all the participants are so touchy-feely and all for fair play, and so on an so forth. I never thought it was true. However, this is exactly how I feel about Mark: I like his video a lot and I am sure he would make a great roving reporter.

So if you want to help us go to Istanbul you can go to Burcu’s blog and vote for one of us. Vote with your heart and you mind, vote as you like, I am certain each one of us has something different to offer to the event and whatever choice you make is going to be for the best!

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