In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

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!





December 28, 2010
by annavarna

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!

Skip to toolbar