In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

May 14, 2015
by annavarna
3 Comments

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.

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howlanguagesarelearned

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 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…

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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!

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