In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

May 1, 2012
by annavarna
7 Comments

Norwegian Schools: A trip to the future

Since October 2011 I’ve been participating in a European Comenius multilateral project called CORE (Clil Objectives Resourcekit for Educators). As its name suggests it’s a project about CLIL implementation and our main objective is to see how CLIL theory is applied in various educational systems, as well as create a resourcekit for any educators that might be interested to give it a try. There are seven partners from five countries in the project and there is a lot of diversity regarding our experience in CLIL. Our Spanish partners for example are already practicing CLIL in their settings, and Victor Pavon our Cordovan partner is an academic whose main focus is CLIL and bilingualism. On the other hand our Norwegian partners are very new to exploring the possibilities of CLIL and so are we, the Greek partners. Nevertheless this diversity is one of our strong points as a team.

So now that I have explained the basics of our project I’d like to describe my experience in Norway where the second meeting was held, and in particular my impressions from visiting two schools in the area of Karmoy.
The first visit was at Holmen school. This is an alternative school in the area of Karmoy. There are very few students and they are pupils that had serious trouble to follow the “regular” school program or children who dropped out of school so this is their final effort to graduate. They do the usual school subjects but they also do a lot of practical work, like bike repairing, painting, cooking and such. When the first school opened some 13 or 14 years ago one of the educators had the brilliant idea that if they wanted to keep the students in this school they had to give them a dream. And the dream they decided upon in this beautiful fishing town of Karmoy was to build a ship! We are talking about a real 15m long ship that will be able to sail and not a sorry model.
12 years ago they started building it, along with their teachers, little by little every year, working hours and hours, and studying all kinds of theory in order to learn how to do it. Combining science, mathematics, shipbuilding skills, and whatever else necessary now it is almost ready. In about a month she will go into water.
When our group went into the school , the head Johanes, briefed us into the story of the ship. But no briefing could have prepared me for the beauty of the vessel, its size, the kind of work that went into it and the pride of the students working on it. We met three of the students working there and they were all smiling, clever, polite boys who seemed to work with earnest love for the boat.
Talking with the teachers was enlightening as well: “There have been many students who have worked on the ship over the years. We show them that if you are patient you can achieve something big. But you have to wait. So this might help them when they go back to regular school and they will have to be patient in order to see the results of their efforts”. How true! How many times have we had students who don’t see the meaning of trying hard and working diligently? I’m sure if you have worked with adolescents you will have encountered situations like this pretty often.
Another thing that amazed me with the whole project was how few students were there. The three alternative options of Karmoy school system are the Holmen, Tarnet and Botoppen schools. All in all they must deal with no more than 40 students. But people there do not see it as an awful lot of money for so few students. They see it as an investment for the future: if they manage to keep these students at school they are convinced their investment will pay off and in the long run it will come cheaper than if these adolescents were lost in the forests of juvenile delinquency.
The second school we visited must be one of the flagships of Norwegian education. Mykje Skole on the outskirts of Haugesund is a school taken out of the Fairy Tale Schools book. We arrived there on Friday morning and we experienced the Friday assembly. In a beautiful hall (Scandinavian Design at its best) candle lit, and with music played the 300 students gathered in a most ordered manner, quiet, wearing their clogs or their socks, they sat down next to their teachers and they waited until everybody had sat. Our mouths had already dropped because everything was being done so quietly and peacefully. The music teacher announced the program which included a song sang by the school choir (I think this was done for our sake, but maybe not), some presentation about traffic safety, awarding the most careful students of the week wishing happy birthday to the people whose birthday was that week!
When the choir sang “California Dreaming” I think I started crying. Whoever has tried to teach children a simple (monophonic) song will know what kind of work it takes to achieve such a result. I am sure you will agree they are simply fantastic!


But our visit had just started. As soon as assembly finished we were assigned two student guides (who spoke excellent English, as well as all the other Norwegian people I met) who would take us around the school and explain everything. What can I say? That the facilities are of the highest standards? That classrooms had no doors but that there were specially designed rooms for group work? That there were computers and interactive boards everywhere? I think the point isn’t to describe facilities. What I saw was a school where children are free to work on their own, where there is a lot of peer learning and teaching (like in the music room where there was no teacher but the students taught each other how to play the cello), where teachers cooperate to teach a class. I saw a school where students and teachers are respected and they are given opportunities to take initiatives and create and be innovative. I saw a school where I would like to teach, and in which I would love my child to attend.
The following night we were invited to Holmen School again. This time a teacher of the school, who is also an accredited chef, would cook for us and two of the students would help in the kitchen and with the waiting. Again we experienced this look on the eyes of the students that talked about the pride they took in their work. And I couldn’t help wondering how often we give opportunities like that to our students.
A huge thank you to our Norwegian hosts who organized this visit and gave us the gift of getting to know from up close such marvelous education system. Thank you Britt-Mona, Per, John, Helga, Jane, Johanes! See you in Greece in autumn.

Here you can find the set of images related to these two Norwegian schools: http://www.flickr.com/photos/annabooklover/sets/72157629940899809/

March 11, 2012
by annavarna
1 Comment

Too young for this? Not really…

One question that always bothers me is how to approach difficult topics in the primary classroom. Should I try to protect my students and keep them sealed from the outside world? Or would I act more pedagogically if I prepared them for what is out there? There are sound arguments for both stances:  “they are too young, why should you be the one to introduce painful notions like poverty, racism, injustice at this tender age? They will have all the time to suffer in the future, just try to make your classroom as happy and as innocent as possible”.

“But you are a teacher”, says the other voice. “it’s your duty to prepare them, life is not a bubble to keep them inside forever”.

Whenever I have dilemmas like this, I have a solution – I ask myself: what would you want for your child, what do you do with your child? And the answer is I wouldn’t want my child to not be aware of the darker side of life. OK, I won’t make her life miserable by showing all the injustice and violence of the world but I can introduce her somehow to the notion that not everything is pink and sugary out there. Otherwise I would be doing a disservice to her  and to all my students consequently.

So it was with great interest that I attended yesterday’s workshop with Judy Boyle, organized by the Karditsa English Teachers’ Association. The topic was Human Trafficking and Judy presented some hard-boiled facts as well as the work of the NO-Project organization.

Judy mainly works with teenagers and young people and I agree with her that it is unacceptable to graduate from Secondary Education and never to have heard about Human Trafficking. Our school books claim that slavery has been abolished but this isn’t true. Every year thousands if not millions of children are sold and trafficked mainly for use in the sex trade.

Just reading what I have written above makes me sick. I cannot grasp the notion that a human being is sold and objectified like that, I simply cannot. But it happens and just by closing our eyes it won’t disappear.

So for the moment I am trying to come up with a lesson plan for my sixth graders that will revolve around the two videos below and I hope there will be good response to them.

The first one is an awarded animation film by Effie Papa and it won a prize in 2011 in Animfest, the International Animation Festival that took place in Athens, Greece. Effie Papa was a student at TEI (Technical Education Institute) in Athens at the time. It is a beautifully made video with a powerful message.

 

 

The second one is a song and video clip by Radiohead. The lyrics are really a work of art too and could spark a lot of conversation in class. I could show the lyrics first and have my students guess the content and the story behind them and then show them the video clip which shows this world of injustice as clear as possible.

Thank you Judy for this, and thank you at all the people in Karditsa for organizing it. Tonight at 18.00 there is another event at the same place (ΤΕΔΚ, Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου 10) about projects in first grades of Primary School and about the Barefoot School and different and innovative approaches to education.

More Links that can help you with the Human Trafficking topic:

Jamie Keddie’s lesson plan about human trafficking

The No Project Organisation (You will find plenty of material, videos and info to use in your class)

 

 

February 10, 2012
by annavarna
2 Comments

Lemons and lemonade

I’ve been trying to write this post for a few months now. I tried to write it in September when we went to school and there were no books to give to our students. I tried to write it again when teacher underwent another cut in their already meager salary. I tried to write it again when the teachers’ unions resisted the integration of Roma students in our schools. But today I read this article by photographer David Du Chemin and all the pieces fell to place. I have been following David for a while now and I love the way he writes because his posts are not exclusively about photogrpahy, they transcend in all fields of life and they are meaningful to everyone.

So in this post (which I hope some of you will read carefully) he talks about photographers but we could very well replace this in some paragraphs with teachers or lawyers or whatever profession you may like. David writes:

 …Things are changing. Is it easy? No. Is it fair? Does it matter? EVERYTHING is changing. It always has. It always will. If you are in business for yourself as a photographer, your job, as the CEO of You Inc., is to meet those changes head on, to navigate the rough waters and do it in a way you love, while not sinking the ship. No one promised you safe passage. No one owes you a waveless voyage. …f you are floundering, it’s not because you don’t have a better camera or the same 85/1.2L lens that that other, more successful, photographer on the other side of town, or the other side of the internet. It’s because you aren’t being as creative as you thought you were or you aren’t hustling…”

 Do you get it? If things aren’t going well in your teaching situation, if your kids aren’t interested, aren’t learning, are bored, are raucous and so on and so forth, it’s not the fault of books, or the lack of equipment. It’s because we aren’t creative enough. OK, the situation is dire, and it’s not our fault, and it’s unfair. So now what? Are we going to spend the rest of our working time whining and bithcing about the indifferent ministry and the good-for-nothing people who make the decisions? Are we going to waste the time of another school year by doing nothing?

 David has expressed it better than me I think: “…Yes, things are changing. They always have. But you can either make the change or react to it. Either way you need to be creative. You can do two things with your time on this earth – play the cards you’re dealt with all the energy and conviction you can, or whine and moan about how lousy your cards are. But whining and moaning never once changed the cards in anyone’s hand. Yes, Detroit was decimated by the economy, and it was left in literal ruins. But it’s making a come back. Not because it sat there feeling sorry for itself (ok, some did, but they aren’t the ones making the comeback), but because they got creative. They stood up, dusted off the seat of their jeans and looked the situation square in the eye and said, “OK. Now what?” It’s hard work. It’ll take time. And if you don’t love that work, give up now.”

 So, to get back to our situation in my poor little country: the (new) third grade book is colourless, badly drawn, the listening material you have to download yourself etc etc. So why don’t you organize a competition for the best coloured book at the end of the year? We have already started but you may want to join us! 

October 3, 2011
by annavarna
4 Comments

The learning challenge

What have you learned today? What have you learned lately? Do you remember what it is like to learn a new thing? Do you remember how difficult, frustrating, excruciatingly embarrassing it can be? Do you remember the moment you realized what it was about? Wasn’t it like an epiphany? Like everything you had heard so far, suddenly made sense? What was it that kept you going? That didn’t allow you to quit the moment it got so difficult? And who taught you? Did you teach yourself or did you have a good teacher? Did you by any chance have an exceptional teacher?

 

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

These were all the questions that came to my mind when I watched this beautiful video found on Vimeo. I suggest you watch the other ones too (MOVE and EAT) since I know you being the teacher you are, you are going to find hundreds of educational uses for them. As for here I am going to share one of my favourite learning experiences, one that was many years ago but is still as vivid inside me as then: Learning to fly, or to be more accurate to paraglide!

It was more than ten years ago that I went into paragliding and for a few years I was really immersed into it. I learned how to fly got my first level certificate and flew from Mt Olympus and Mt Voras here in Greece. I will never forget what it was like and I will never forget what  the learning experience either. The instructor was a very patient person who first and foremost taught us how to be safe. The fact that we have remained friends after all these years says something about the importance of the relationship. But what I most remember was my willingness to persist. I think this was what I learned best that period. That if you persist long enough then things become really simple. That if you keep running, you will take off. That if you don’t let the mountain scare you, you will fly over it!

I know I am not saying anything original, it’s in all the books about motivation, educational psychology and theories of learning: the people who are experts in something are just the people who had the persistence to do something long enough. Something like 10,000 hours is considered long enough. Of course I didn’t become an expert in paragliding. At some point I stopped practicing. I imagine that if I started again now I would need months to get to the same level. But the learning is here, it’s inside me. And every time one of my students says, “it’s too difficult miss”, or “I can’t do that teacher”, I remember. And I tell them: don’t stop now!

I would really love to hear your opinions here at the comments or even better in your blog. It seems that everyone is starting a challenge these days so this is mine: What was the most exceptional learning experience you ever had? What will you always remember? Let’s use this hashtag #learnchallenge

September 15, 2011
by annavarna
2 Comments

Web-based education in Europe and the USA by Lindsey Wright

This is a guest blog post. Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

We are both looking forward to your comments and reactions!

 

Online education holds the promise to enable people to pursue higher learning no matter where they are geographically. While overall access to education has improved due to online college courses, there are still major infrastructural issues that prevent web-based learning from becoming fully integrated across the entire world. Additionally, investment in web-based education in certain countries remains relatively weak. There is an unfortunately stark contrast in the prevalence of this form of education in the United States compared to Europe. These issues show major differences in how each region views and invests in education.

The benefits of online education are quite clear to some education advocates. The non-profit Sloan Foundation argues that web-based education has almost become a necessity for students who must balance family and professional lives and to be globally competitive in the job market. In 2010 alone, over 5.6 million American college students were enrolled in at least one online class at both conventional universities and for-profit schools.

The American Society for Training and Development, a non-profit workplace training association, contends this new wave of online education, or E-Learning 2.0, is a reaction against the limiting demands of traditional undergraduate life and the stale classroom environment of most universities. Typically students have to invest more or less all their time and considerable money in college, centering their schedules entirely around school. This can drive away students who need jobs to pay for school or are taking care of family members. Meanwhile, conventional classroom environments based on semester-long schedules within a top-down hierarchy and fixed class curriculum seem increasingly unappealing to many.

With increased globalization, market competition has become a matter of innovation at lightning speed. Accordingly, students in a country like the United States want instant data, flexible critical thinking exercises, and a bottom-up or democratic approach to learning. In a sense, the more students capitalize on E-Learning 2.0, the more competitively the student population is prepared for careers in the global world.

This begs the question of investment. If e-learning and online education are great educational investments, then the necessary infrastructure to support them must be put in place first. Access to broadband technologies, incentives for schools to offer online education, and the assumption students are sufficiently technologically adept to participate in e-learning are some of the largest obstacles to widespread web-based education.

According to the World Bank, the US only slightly edges out the European Union in broadband subscriptions. As of 2009, 27.8 percent of the US population has broadband subscriptions. In the 27 nations of the European Union, the figure is 24.6 percent. However, there is a major different in the quality of those connections. The average US broadband speed is 3.9 mbps, while in the EU the range is between 20 to 30 mbps.

Besides actual infrastructure, there’s also the issue of who provides online education. Although Europe’s broadband infrastructure is solid, it isn’t much used for web-based education. Glenn Russell, Professor of Education at Monash University, says European schools don’t invest much in online programs. Although many European online schools exist to help those too economically disadvantaged to enter a conventional college, the number of these virtual schools is relatively low compared to the United States.

Additionally, a major difficulty for these schools is that they cater to their specific region’s language, and are accordingly more or less unable to be transnational. In the United States, students in California or Hawaii are able to take online classes in New England or Florida thanks to minimal cultural and linguistic difference across the country. Moreover, the US’ many for-profit schools can move capital more quickly in order to invest in online programs exclusively for their student bodies.

However, even if the US has more private web-based schools, there are also problems with public online education. A 2010 US News report showed that almost 50 percent of all conventional colleges that offered online education saw their budgets decrease. This may be because tuition is usually lower and room and board costs non-existent when students enroll online.

Additionally, many professors aren’t happy with the idea of online education. Believing that face-to-face discussion and debate in a classroom are more worthwhile, many professors don’t invest in developing online curricula.

Finally, the kinds of institutions providing education online have been the target of major criticism in the US. Detractors argue for-profit online schools don’t measure up to the skills and job prospects traditional institutions provide. Questions regarding the legitimacy of these schools’ business practices and academic quality continue to fuel prejudice (legitimate or not) against web-based schooling and those who’ve earned degrees online.

Comparing online education in Europe and the United States isn’t quite apples and oranges, but it may be Red Delicious vs. Granny Smith. Both continents have different levels of investment in broadband infrastructure, the essential resource for all students to access online education. However, both regions also differ in how web-based schooling is available. While the courses of development will surely be different in the EU and US, online learning will certainly see increased investment in the coming years, even if it continues to be regarded as second-rate on both sides of the pond

February 5, 2011
by annavarna
4 Comments

Feeding the chickens may lead to a class fight

I teach English to a class of 4th graders, nine-year-olds that is, and many of them seem to have Facebook accounts. They all know that FB is for adults but they have registered a false birth date. So far nothing surprising, I’m sure thousands of kids do this around the world mainly to play these addictive games. My kid (11 years old) has been allowed to do it too.

Last year many of my students were asking me persistently if I have a Facebook account and if I would add them as friends. For months I resisted because I didn’t want my private life to be visible to my students. I was thinking that sometimes I may share a song or a video inappropriate for children and I didn’t want to censor myself like that. Back then FB didn’t have this tool where you can group your friends in various ways and share or not share with them your content. Anyway, after thinking about it for some time, I decided to follow my friend’s advice and set up another FB account which would be only for students. That way I would keep my own life private and I would be able to share with them what I thought appropriate and maybe teach them a couple of things too.

That was last year. For some time it worked well, most of my students found me there and we were happy to exchange gifts and silly nothings, I would post interesting sites and no one would try them, I would post songs with interesting lyrics and they wouldn’t listen them, they would find me on line and would try to chat with me and then get mad at me when I spoke in English to them. A very pleasant experience all in all…

It proved that me and my students had a very different view of how FB worked. For me it was a platform to share interesting material, it was the portal to something else. For them that was it. They were in FB for the sake of FB. They uploaded photos of them, in most them they would pose in a way that made them look older, they would tell each other (especially the girls) how good looking they were and that was it. For me it was also a way to share photographs with them. I like taking photographs at  school and the  kids like it too, but until now there was no way to show them these photos. So FB was a way to share some of the photos I have taken during the last four years I have been in this school and since I had arranged all settings so that photos were visible only to my students and nobody else I thought everything was safe (as safe as it can be online, anyway).

Some learning opportunities came up too although they weren’t what I thought they would be. There were some rude comments under some photos that gave me the opportunity to talk about netiquette, and I was amazed at how fast they were withdrawn.

But the other day I went into this class of 4th graders and there was a lot of turmoil over some private FB messages exchanged between two girls who had allowed other people to access their accounts and these people supposedly had said nasty things. Baffled? So was I and mostly I didn’t know what to do with this class that was divided in two, half supporting one girl and half the other, the two girls on the verge of tears and me in the middle trying to handle the situation. What I did that moment was say a few things about FB, how we shouldn’t allow other people to have our passwords, (but miss who’s gonna feed the chickens when I’m out playing?) (probably with some real chickens) how we shouldn’t forget our good manners wherever we are. I tried to get on with the lesson and asked the two girls to stay behind after class to discuss it.

Since then I have been thinking a lot about it. Are they too young to handle Facebook?  In my opinion yes, but it is so trendy to do it that they didn’t give it a second thought. And their parents? Do you allow your kids to “play” with such obviously adult applications? And what have you done to protect them from uncomfortable situations? Are there any safe networks for kids and how popular are they?  Is it the novelty of Facebook that appeals so much, the fact that it is a grown-up thing to do or the beauty of networking per se? I’d love to hear from you, wherever you are.

January 30, 2011
by annavarna
6 Comments

Beware of the teacher

This past week wasn’t particularly creative. What with being sick on Monday and Tuesday, and then trying to catch up the rest of the days. Having a kid sick at home didn’t help much either but now we are at the end of it and we are all OK, ready to embark on our new week tomorrow.

A highlight of the past week though was going to Karditsa on Wednesday after school, to attend a training session with other teachers of English in my area. We would have a guest lecturer from the USA so I was looking forward to it.

To be honest the presentation itself  (Teaching English to students who are deaf or hard of hearing) didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s not that the presenter didn’t know what to tell us because it was obvious he had a lot to say. But I think we somehow lost track of what he was saying because he was trying to answer questions from the audience at the same time, and then time flew and we had another presentation to watch and you know how it is: at the end of the session you don’t have a clear idea of what happened and why.  All in all I am not much wiser on how to teach English to people who are deaf or hard of hearing (and I happen to have a student like that in one of my classes and I often feel frustrated and fear I am not doing a good job with him), but there were other advantages and gains to be had from this session.

I think the most interesting thing that kept coming up was a different mentality to education. Some of the issues that emerged were the organization of Special Education in the US, the involvement of parents (and how militant they are as Mr Miller mentioned), professional development, attitudes of teachers in schools and how Special Education teachers may feel isolated from their “regular” education colleagues. Mr Miller didn’t paint a perfect picture of American education. He expressed his worry that in the pursuit of better results in international assessment charts such as the PISA tests, authorities seem to miss the bigger picture and become irrelevant by cutting recess and physical education.

But while we were discussing all these things I couldn’t help comparing with our own situation. “You can’t compare Greek education with the US one” people are telling me, OK, I know the US is sooooo much bigger than Greece, so much richer, and many other things so much more. But maybe it became like that because on Election Day their teachers are doing Professional Development and they don’t miss four days (like we did this year on Election Week).  Or maybe it’s because they don’t spend all their resources trying to come to negotiations with Physical Education teachers who are paid for being idle in some areas while in some other areas, in the centre of Athens for goodness sake, there aren’t any of them. I don’t know, I’m just saying…

I struggled a lot to write this piece. Not because it is such a great piece of writing but because there are so many issues that keep coming up whenever I sit down to write about education in my country. Every single day there is a challenge I have to deal with and I am not talking about what happens in my classroom. These are beautiful challenges that I am looking forward to. I am talking about the other ones that come up in the staff room, about “little” breaches of the law that happen so often that come to pass as accepted. But I read this wonderful piece by an intrepid teacher and because I want to be INTREPID too, here it is.

IMG_7103

I’m just posting a photo of students’ work, because this is what I’m proud of and what keeps me going every day!

January 19, 2011
by annavarna
1 Comment

Come together!

I read a wonderful piece on how to become a better blogger by Natasa, and another one on how to save energy when teaching and when writing by James. So I’m going to write a short post on why working WITH somebody can mean so much.

There’s power in numbers. I’m not saying anything new, we all know why it is good to cooperate, we try to teach it to our students, we try to involve them in group activities or pairwork but what do WE do as teachers to show them we believe in it? Do we cooperate inside our schools? How many of us are actually involved in a collaborative project inside our school?

My story is this: Since last year when I first found out about an ELT conference in Istanbul, Turkey and tasting its magnificent atmosphere despite being thousands of miles away, I wanted to take part and go there this year. It was a goal for 2011. I had been thinking about what to present in this conference but it seems I had something like a presenter’s block and I couldn’t come up with a good idea. This lack of inspiration was demoralizing and as time went by it kept getting worse.

But then one day, I was in the car with the person we will call my mentor from now on, and I tentatively asked if she would be interested in doing this with me. She was enthusiastic of course, being the open-minded person that she is, and from then on I can tell you it was rollercoaster of ideas! I was amazed at how while talking with her, new ideas kept springing up in my mind. We were discussing general education issues and then something new popped up, I could almost see the ideas floating in the car just like in cartoon films !

So we agreed about a basic idea about a month ago and recently we decided to sit down and work more specifically on it and come up with a decent proposal. My lack of inspiration was keeping me low. On Sunday, we had scheduled a meeting and while I was getting dressed to meet her I had another idea! Today, on our third meeting things cleared up even more and I am back on track, I think I’ve regained my creativity and boy, does it feel good!

But in order to make it more useful for you I think I have realized why this cooperation has worked so much for me:

1.       My mentor, is a person whose work I admire and respect. She has more experience than me, has done things I would like to do in the future and is a sound role model for me.

2.       My mentor is more theoretically educated than me, which gives me a good anchor, when I get away with my crazy ideas she always asks me the right questions: “Why do you want to do this, what is your aim and what are your objectives?”

3.       My mentor is very open minded and encouraging and I feel safe with her, even to make mistakes, even to say things that might not work out in the end. The fact that I can teach her some things too makes me feel equal and not at all insecure.

4.       Because of all these things, even scheduling an appointment with her, be it face to face or Skype or calling each other, puts me in the right frame of mind and brings back my creativity.

5.       The fact that she is a person whose whole attitude to life agrees with mine helps me to connect even more with her, to bond and be inspired by her example  and persuade myself that everything is possible.

All in all I am so excited I have met this person and our professional relationship is evolving as time goes by that I can’t help but advertise this kind of situation. Go out there and find a person that will inspire you and motivate you to work better, be it a colleague, a school advisor or a friend with similar interests. The difference will be huge.

11012011568

January 4, 2011
by annavarna
5 Comments

Paper Kindle Lover*

Besides being a teacher I am a renowned booklover and have been writing a book blog since 2005. So very often people ask me my opinion about books and what I like what I recommend and so on. Lately people ask me what I think about e-books, if I would ever buy one etc. People know that apart from reading I like collecting books as well, some may say I suffer from a recognized ailment under the name of bibliomania J . They come to the conclusion that I would never give up my favourite real paper books for a PDF version of them. This is partly true.

Some years ago I might not have written this post. I was so attached to my books that I couldn’t imagine a world without them. Hell, I couldn’t imagine my house without books. But one day my house was too small for our family plus our books. Then I started bookcrossing. And  as  I grow older and more used to being in front of a computer all day, the idea of not holding a book but a tablet doesn’t make me flinch anymore. What we want from books is their content of course and they way this is presented is of lesser importance in my opinion. Of course it’s a whole different discussion whether the content is irrelevant to the medium that carries it but for the sake of this discussion let’s suppose that it is.

The issue of e-books has become very relevant to education as well. Recently there has been a lot of talk about replacing paper books with electronic ones. Traditionally all books are given for free in primary secondary and tertiary education here in Greece. This is good of course. No, it’s not only good, it is elementary if we want to have free education for all. From what I read about the issue, I cannot make the conclusion that books will not be free anymore. But I wouldn’t be against their content becoming digital at some point. This means of course that all students will have an e-book device. Not only that, it means that some books could be enriched.  It doesn’t in any way mean that ministries of education will write the books, make them available on line and then leave students and teachers to print them by their own means. This is another absurd situation that wouldn’t surprise me to see.

The fact that students tear, throw away or even burn their books at the end of the school year (some people say because they haven’t paid for them) doesn’t mean that the State shouldn’t provide them. Maybe they should find ways to encourage sharing and giving away, maybe they should wonder what make a student so furious as to wish to burn his/her book.

But of course as so many things in this country we took a good idea and twisted it so far out of reason that now all reason has been lost and we can’t even enjoy the fundamentals. For example for the last three years we participate (as a school) in surveys about the weight of the students’ school bags. Children as young as 7 years old have to carry satchels that weigh 7 or 8 kilos. They have to carry so many books to school every day that nowadays firstgraders have these wheeled bags other people take for a weekend away! A kid that I know rolled down two floors of stairs because she couldn’t carry the bag in her back. You bet,  I would support a digital reading device!

Don’t let me even begin about free books at university because the situation is so ridiculous there,  a whole blog wouldn’t be enough. I will just mention that giving free books doesn’t mean students read them. From my short experience in Spain as an Erasmus student, students weren’t given half the books we were given in Greece but HAD to study more than the double.

My love for beautiful book hasn’t withered at all. Even at this time of dire straits, I keep buying books that catch my eye. But as far as practicality goes, I would rather have a Kindle for when I travel, even though if this meant I wouldn’t be able to post to my favourite FB group which is about what people read on buses, undergrounds etc. . .

So I wouldn’t be so worried about digital books. I would be more worried about children not wanting to go to school, about teachers dying out of boredom, I would be more worried about administration with no kind of vision and no idea about learning. I would be more worried about our schools and universities being underfunded than about introducing technology.

What do you think? Are you opposed to an e-book? Have they already been introduced in your schools?

* Paper Kindle: a printed book (from Urban Dictionary) (Thank you Hilda)

1225 MAY 2005

December 28, 2010
by annavarna
14 Comments

What did you learn today, teacher?

Is it common for other professional groups to hang out mainly with their own or is it just us teachers? And do all teachers talk shop whenever they meet? It never ceases to amaze me how, despite complaining about school, when we see a fellow teacher we immediately start talking about it again, comparing, suggesting, exchanging information. And you know something? Because education is such a deeply political aspect of our lives, it permeates everything. The other day we had agreed to discuss anything but our jobs. We were three teachers of English and an ex teacher of French. We had agreed but, of course it kept coming up. It’s not such a bad thing after all. It even inspires blog posts!

The three of us are in such different teaching situations and have arrived there from at least two different paths. V has recently taken up teaching in private afternoon schools after being a stay-at-home mum for years. She is enthusiastic about her job, tries hard to keep up with the challenges of it and is still trying to find the ropes around ELT in Greece. E graduated University a few years ago, would like to work for state schools but until this happens she also teaches in afternoon schools and experiences frustration when she has to deal with ignorant English School Owners. Yours truly works for state primary schools, has all the security she needs and lives constantly in the fear of becoming one of those teachers who sit behind their desks at the beginning of the term and are dragged out of the classroom at the end of it. There are many points that could be discussed here about qualifications, about wanting to work for State Education (and how sane this is), about security and pay but today I’ll write about something else.

At some point E raised the question of professional development. What happens, who does it, is it obligatory, how can I do it, why school owners don’t do it are some of the questions that came up. I remember a similar discussion I had had with two friends of mine who aren’t teachers. More than ten years ago, when the first exam for State School Appointment was given, teachers who were already teaching as substitutes were complaining that how could anyone ask them to be examined on things they hadn’t been taught. Even today professional training is a permanent demand made by teacher unions. However, my non teacher friend saw things from a different perspective and asked why we teachers never took advantage of the already existing opportunities for professional development. Even then there were hundreds of learning opportunities either by EU or other professional groups, TESOL conventions and workshops but most teachers either ignored them or even snubbed them.

Now, the situation has changed dramatically. Having a computer and an internet connection is like taking part in an on-going conference, like having hundreds of presentations at your fingertips, like having access to the most up to date library, like being a kid in a candy shop and no money limit (be careful there, we don’t want you to get an information overload).

So I would say that professional development is obligatory for each one of us whatever our teaching situation and when it is not offered we should seek it. And for new teachers out there who might complain that they don’t have enough time to correct papers, let alone to attend seminars and read articles I would argue that maybe if you attend these seminars you would learn how to manage your time better.

So here is a guide on how to start you own Personal Learning Network and continue your professional development.

1.       Become a member of an association either local, national or intenational. For example UTEK (Union of Teachers of English in Karditsa), TESOL Greece, or IATEFL). These associations usually have newsletters or publications with interesting articles and organize seminars and conventions. If you could go to an international convention it would give you enough material for PD for a year.

2.       Use Twitter and Facebook for professional reasons. Twitter is an excellent source of information and links of any kind, whether you are looking for teaching material or useful blogs or polemic discussion. Start today by following influential educators such as Marisa Constantinides, Shelly Terrell, Karenne Sylvester, Russell Stannard, Vicky Loras

3.       Another opportunity for development that started in twitter and may go far beyond it, is ELTchat. This is a professional discussion that takes part every Wednesday night since September. Members agree on a topic by poll, and discuss it on line using twitter. The transcripts of previous chats as well more information about it may be found here. But most of all it is a fantastic way to create your own PLN to find people doing the same thing you do in different countries in a different way. Their enthusiasm is addictive!

These were just some of the tips I had to share. I have written about twitter and how it has changed my teaching life again and though sometimes I have so much information in my hands I don’t know what to do with it, I never regret spending time in cyber world. So if you are new in ELT, if you don’t know where to start, if you have many questions don’t hesitate to ask. Don’t hesitate to make connections. Wonder! Keep learning! If  nothing else it will make you a better person!

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY, full of challenges and opportunities!

UPDATE 5/1/2011

– An older article I had written about twitter in my professional life

– A new post in one of my favourite educational blogs related to PD and how it can empower teachers

IMG_4376A photo from teacher a training session organized by school advisor Ms Kollatou and participating presenter your truly!

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